Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Springtime for Erdoğan

Kurdish fighters on the Syria-Iraq border, September 2013. Photo by James Gordon/Flickr via Foreign Policy in Focus.

So I was at least partly wrong and Operation Peace Spring (Barış Pınarı Harekatı; the "spring", pınar, is a spring of water, it's not that they don't realize it's October) has begun, against what the announcement refers to as "the PKK/YPG and Daesh terror organizations" (slipping in the false assertion that PKK, the militant Kurdish group in Turkey, and YPG, the Syrian Kurdish army that has been fighting the Da'esh in Syria for years with US support, are the same thing) and aiming, says BBC, to establish a "safe zone" on the Turkish-Syrian border and eventually repatriate about two million of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees now living in camps in Turkey.
The old "ancient hatreds" argument used, as it so often is, to evade the responsibility the US bears for the fighting of recent years launched by the senseless invasion of Iraq, not to mention the other powers allied with Trump (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia) and not (Iran).

Trump seems to have the idea that all the Da'esh soldiers in Kurdish custody in the area are recruits from Europe, but in fact it's about 2,000 out of 10,000, according to BBC, and not, as he believes, mostly from Belgium, Britain, and France, but Chechens from Russia. He's become obsessed with them in recent months, apparently feeling that they are costing the US a lot of money, which is nonsensical, as Brett McGurk has explained, and sometimes suggests he's just going to bus them all from northern Syria to Belgium and let them out:

"At some point, I'm going to have to say, 'I'm sorry, you either take them back or we're going to let them go at your border'," Trump said [September 20] in the Oval Office. "They mostly come out of Europe, and we've done them a tremendous favor ... So they have to make their decision. Otherwise, we're releasing them at the border." (ABC)
There's a bit more information from NBC on that phone call, very enlightening for me: it looks like it was Erdoğan who was aggressive in the first place, over what he regarded as a personal slight: Trump's failure to make time for a one-on-one meeting at the UN General Assembly in September; the purpose of the call was to calm him down and work toward another, much grander Leader Playdate, a full-scale state dinner in Washington.

It would be in the context of these tensions that the long-simmering resentments came to the surface: Erdoğan's over the way Trump greenlighted his little invasion plans last December and then suddenly did a 180 under pressure from, well, all of the world and America in particular; Trump's over his unshakable belief that he's being forced to buy meals for thousands of Belgian and French jihadis. I'm guessing Trump hung up after Erdoğan said hell no, he wasn't going to take care of the ISIS prisoners, and Trump got Miller or whoever to write up the official statement saying that yes Erdoğan was:
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
That's what it's actually about.

Although there's also, in the background, the significant relationship between Turkey and the Trump Organization, which NBC reports in some depth:
Trump and his family have long had business ties in and with Turkey, the most visible example being the Trump Towers Istanbul, which licenses the Trump name. The Trump Organization describes the buildings on its website as “a landmark in the historic city of Istanbul” and it is the organization’s first and only office and residential tower in Europe, with offices, apartments and upscale shops. The Washington Post has reported that the organization was paid up to $10 million to put the Trump name on the two buildings....
A lawsuit filed by 29 senators and 186 House Democrats — one of three lawsuits that have alleged that Trump is in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clauses, which bar the president from receiving monetary or other benefits of value from foreign or U.S. state entities while in office — claims that Turkey has among the highest number of foreign business ventures in which Trump is at least a partial owner, with 119 listed. Others include China, with 115, and the Philippines, with 121.
Businesses linked to the Turkish government are also major patrons of the Trump Organization. Turkish officials have made 14 visits to Trump properties, more than any other country, according to an analysis performed for NBC News by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW.
It's emoluments city, and you can bet that none of these arrangements exist without Erdoğan's approval.

I'd like to note that the thing is another example of a particular danger in Trump's insistence on putting everything on a bilateral basis, that he ends up making contradictory commitments. China's deep distrust of Trump is surely related to his clumsy attempt to get something going with Taiwan during the transition. The bottom of the Ukraine madness is the conflict between his assurances to Putin (we won't let them have the missiles) and Zelensky (we'll definitely let you have the missiles if you do what I want). In the current case, he's been trying to assuage his Turkish friend and business partner and the congressional Republicans at the same time.

Now Lindsey Graham is in a violent rage over the betrayal of the Kurds, channeling John McCain like Linda Blair's baritone growls in The Exorcist. I'd be surprised if it stopped him from going to Erdoğan's state dinner, of course, and toasting the friendship between the two emperors in beakers of Kurdish blood, but this story has a long way to go.  

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