Thursday, December 20, 2018

Christmas Turkey

Trump Towers Istanbul, via Hürriyet Daily News.

What provoked Trump to decide to pull the 2,200 US troops out of Syria by tweet wasn't a Fox story or a hallucination, or anything to do with Vladimir Putin either, contrary to what you may be hearing over the Internet, but apparently a phone call last Friday from the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as Karen DeYoung reports at the Washington Post:

Officials familiar with the Friday call said that Erdogan, among other things, had stressed to Trump that the Syrian Kurds were terrorists — allied with Kurdish separatists in his own country — and asked why the United States was supporting them rather than its NATO ally. He noted that the Islamic State had been vanquished and questioned the need for an ongoing U.S. troop presence, saying that Turkish troops already massed on the Syrian border could handle any problem there.
The Erdogan call, many concluded as they tried to understand the reasoning behind a decision widely considered rash and unwise, was the only thing that could have provoked Trump. A senior congressional aide speculated that the call, and the withdrawal, were “definitely related.”
Erdoğan's call must have been a response to something else that happened on Friday, which I found out about in an article by Michael Jansen/Irish Times: the Pentagon issuing a warning to Turkey over Erdoğan's planned expedition to Syrian Kurdistan:

The Pentagon has warned against “unilateral military action” after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared Ankara would “in a few days” launch an operation to clear Syrian Kurdish fighters from territory they hold in northern Syria.
US military spokesman Sean Robertson called Mr Erdogan’s announcement a “matter of grave concern” and “unacceptable” but did not say how the US military, which has more than 2,200 troops in the area, would respond.
Which kind of puts a nice sharp point on the pencil, doesn't it? The US has been putting up observation posts on the border over the last month or two in the specific aim of preventing Turkish-Kurdish clashes, and these are now going to be abandoned, according to an anonymous source who spoke to Jared Szuba/Defense Post:
The U.S. intends to leave the outposts, some of which are located in Kobane, Tal Abyad and Tal Arqam, in an attempt to show Turkey the American withdrawal is legitimate, according to the source.
The U.S. plan is to coordinate with Ankara to ensure as many of the stated U.S. goals in Syria can be maintained without the presence of American forces in the country, including continued support for the Syrian Democratic Forces [umbrella including Kurdish and Arab fighters], which faces the threat of imminent attack by Turkey.
It is unclear in what capacity that support will be provided. The SDF lacks heavy weapons and even helmets for most of its fighters, and relies heavily on close U.S. air support for success on the battlefield.
So it really sounds as if Erdoğan called Trump in a rage after the Pentagon warning was issued, told the president to get the fuck out of his way, and Trump said, "Sure!" and called a meeting for Tuesday with senior White House aides, Mattis, and Pompeo. When they all told him he couldn't do it, it was the worst idea, if only because ISIS has not in fact been defeated yet, he flew into a rage of his own and decided to do it anyway, announcing it in a 78-second vlog post:

And That's the Way We Want It
by Donald J. Trump
We've been fighting for a long time in Syria. I've been
President for almost two years, and we've really
stepped it up, and we have won against ISIS.
We've beaten them, and we've beaten them badly.
We've taken back the land, and now it's time
for our troops to come back home.
I get very saddened when I have to write letters,
or call parents, or wives, or husbands of soldiers
who have been killed fighting for our country.
It's a great honor. We cherish them, but it's heartbreaking.
There's no question about it. It's heartbreaking.
Now, we've won. It's time to come back. They're getting
ready, you're going to see them soon. These are
great American heroes. These are great heroes
of the world, because, they fought for us, but they've
killed ISIS, who hurts the world, and we're proud to have done it.
And I'll tell you, they're up there looking down on us
and there is nobody happier, or more proud
of their families, to put them in a position where
they've done such good, for so many people.
So our boys, our young women, our men,
they're all coming back and they're coming back
now. We won, and that's the way we want it,
and that's the way they want it.
In which our dead soldiers (three US soldiers have died in the Syrian deployment since it began in 2016, one in an IED explosion, one in a noncombat vehicle rollover, and one of natural causes, so it's not that many letters) look out from the gold bar of Heaven to bless the Emperor's efforts for peace.

The only real question being, then, what does Erdoğan have on Trump? I know he licenses a pair of Trump Towers in Istanbul, and we haven't forgotten about Turkey's anger over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and how Trump wanted to buy them off by extraditing Fethullah Gülen, and he told Erdoğan in the Friday call he was still thinking about doing that for nothing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders has said, and we were hearing all last week about General Flynn's freelancing, over which Judge Sullivan was so furious that Flynn hadn't been charged. Is there more? Was Trump himself connected to Flynn's Turkey business?

Update: Marcy's thinking is heading in a similar direction, and maybe Speaker-to-be Pelosi's is too:
In the wake of yesterday’s decision, Nancy Pelosi (who as a Gang of Eight member, may know non-public information about all this) tied Trump’s announcement to the Flynn sentencing hearing and his work for Turkey; she suggested Trump had made the decision to serve his own personal or political objectives.
It is premature for the President to declare a sweeping victory against ISIS when, just a few weeks ago, our military led more than 250 coalition-conducted airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria. All Americans should be concerned that this hasty announcement was made on the day after sentencing in criminal proceedings began against the President’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who admitted that he was a registered foreign agent for a country with clear interests in the Syrian conflict.
“When we take the gavel, our Democratic Majority will uphold the Congress’ constitutional oversight responsibilities to ensure that the President’s decisions advance our national security interests, not his personal or political objectives.
I don’t know whether Pelosi is correct (and I actually hope that we do get out of Syria, though perhaps congressional oversight can force Trump to do this in a way that doesn’t result in genocide for our longtime Kurdish allies).
That last parenthesis comes pretty close to expressing my feelings about the troop withdrawal; I don't care about it from the ISIS or Assad standpoints, but I really want the Kurds protected in some way from these vile actors.

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