Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Great and Unmatched Wisdom

Democratic Underground, using art by Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito from Captain America #227 (1978).

Funny bit of a buried lede in NPR's story on Trump and Erdoğan and the Syrian Kurds this morning, the angle of which was Pentagon sources telling Tom Bowman how entirely blindsided the Defense Department was by the development: they said that the Trump-Erdoğan call on Sunday had been what White House staff refers to as a "bad call", which I immediately took to mean the kind of call where Trump loses his temper, screams, and makes a rash decision in the hope of punishing everybody (as right at the beginning of the presidency, when he had those crazy interactions with Malcolm Turner of Australia and Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico).

It startled me because I'd been imagining something quite different—like so many of us I've got Leader calls and quids pro quo on the brain at the moment, and just assumed Trump was greenlighting a Turkish attack on the Syrian Kurds in return for something from Turkey, or somebody else who had something he wanted, like "dirt" on an opponent or maybe just cash, and spent much of the day speculating on what it might be. When I should have been reading down to the bottom of the stories we already had, like this in The Times from Peter Baker and Lara Jakes:
In this case, Mr. Trump seemed to be responding instinctively to an unexpected comment by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey near the end of a telephone call on Sunday that otherwise focused on trade and defense assistance. Mr. Erdogan, who has long threatened to send troops over the border against Kurdish fighters allied with the United States, told Mr. Trump that he was finally moving forward.
Mr. Trump told Mr. Erdogan that he did not support an incursion, according to aides. But rather than hold back Mr. Erdogan anymore, Mr. Trump got off the call and promptly issued a late-night statement that he would pull out about 50 American special operations troops near the border who have served as a trip wire deterring Turkey from sending forces into Syria.
This isn't quid pro quo Trump, this is tantrum Trump. (Not that there's not a quid pro quo, but it likely goes back a ways, perhaps to 2016, when Flynn was moonlighting there while he worked on the campaign.)

It's somewhat a mini-repeat of last December, when Turkish forces were first preparing an incursion into Kurd-held territory in northeastern Syria (Turkish authorities have long had a tendency to treat their own Kurdish minority as a threatening group whose language and culture ought to be extirpated, with the inevitable result of creating the threat, in the form of a militant Kurdish independence movement, and the Erdoğan government regards the Syrian Kurdish military as a kind of extension of  that), and Trump announced out of the blue that the US would immediately withdraw all its troops from Syria. But in that case the Erdoğan call (Friday 14 December) seems to have been entirely friendly, and its relation to the Trump withdrawal decision (Tuesday 18 December) not at all clear, and in the present case it's a direct result of the phone call and Trump is clearly enraged about something, which looks like the fact that he hasn't altogether defeated IS and looks like a failure:
Today, President Donald J. Trump spoke with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey by telephone. Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial “Caliphate,” will no longer be in the immediate area.
The United States Government has pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused. The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer. Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial “Caliphate” by the United States.
There are about 18,000 active ISIS fighters dispersed through Iraq and Syria, and many more imprisoned ISIS members and their families in Syria—70,000 in one camp in al-Hol, in the custody of the basically Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces—who are likely to escape if Turkey chases the SDF out, and the "territorial caliphate" could conceivably be reestablished. He's not just pissed off with Erdoğan but with everybody who reminds him why US troops are still there. It's all the fault, Trump is saying, of others—France, Germany, and Turkey—and let them take care of it! He's fed up with it! And they'd better not cause any trouble either!
I don't know what makes him think he's totally destroyed and obliterated (I always see Stephen Miller's hand in these gaseous bursts of synonyms) the Economy of Turkey before—I don't think he's destroyed-and-obliterated any economies since Atlantic City in the 1990s, and of course the soy-and-hog states of the Midwest in the past year—but that's great and unmatched wisdom for you.

In December the international and domestic outcry, which included the protest resignation of defense secretary James Mattis, quickly forced Trump to back off and agree to leave the Kurds under the protection of a very small US contingent, and I have a funny feeling that might be the way this one turns out too. I hope so, I guess.

But I'm getting so sick of these constant emergencies at the hands of a 13-year-old emperor-president.

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