From Informed Comment
I asked last week how it could be that Trump greenlighted the Turkish invasion of northern Syrian and the ethnic cleansing of Syrian Kurds along the Turkish border, but at the same time announced sanctions on Turkey for doing just that.
On Wednesday, Trump announced that there wouldn't be any sanctions on Turkey after all, given that Turkey had agreed with Russia to stop its invasion of Syria and to allow Russia instead to patrol the Syrian-Turkish border.
I had written,
- "the sanctions may be a political cover. Trump is being pilloried by Republican stalwarts (though not mostly those still actually in office) for his abrupt retreat from Syria. What he did makes him look weak and threatens to damage his blustery brand.
"Announcing sanctions on Turkey at least creates an image of strength and pushback. It also puts him on the same page with Sen. Lindsay Graham and other GOP Syria war hawks who have called for sanctions on Turkey.
"Remember, Trump's 'sanctions' may also be just tough talk. Trump on many occasions has slow-rolled sanctions legislated by Congress, as on Putin's Russia, or simply declined practically to implement them. As of now, aside from some tweets, there is no early prospect of Turkey being sanctioned in practical terms."
The evidence is only circumstantial, but there is now another way to read Trump's threatened sanctions. Was he playing bad cop with Turkey to let Russian president Vladimir Putin play good cop? That is, was Trump actively involved in a pincer movement against Turkey on behalf of Russia?
Trump greenlighted the Turkish invasion and abruptly pulled most US troops out of Syria, which a reasonable person could have foreseen would chase the Syrian Kurds into the arms of Russia.
This outcome was good for Russia and for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. But it was only good if Turkey did not go on invading along the full 270 miles of Turkish-Syrian border, as Erdogan initially announced he would do
Putin took Erdogan to the Sochi woodhouse and forced him to stop the invasion, giving him a 75-mile strip of border and a depth of 20 miles down from it into Syria. Tens of thousands of Kurds have been forced out of this 1,500 sq mile enclave, as Turkey brought in vicious fundamentalist Arab militiamen who targeted leftist Kurds.
Erdogan abruptly folded at Russia's request. Did Turkey mothball plans for further invasions because behind the scenes Trump warned them that if they declined the Russian offer, they would be sanctioned?
What happened in this Turkish-held enclave is bad enough, but Erdogan has been forced to back away from his ambitious plans by Russian intervention.
So now that Erdogan put his head down before Putin and called off any further invasion, suddenly Trump pulls an about-face and cancels the proposed Turkish sanctions, precisely on the grounds that Erdogan complied with the Russian request.
It may or may not be another international conspiracy.