December 20, 2018 | Defense One

Trump’s Gifts to Turkey Repeat Mistakes and Set Bad Precedents

The withdrawal from Syria and sale of missiles to Ankara will undermine U.S. efforts to work with partners and rebuff Russian influence.
December 20, 2018 | Defense One

Trump’s Gifts to Turkey Repeat Mistakes and Set Bad Precedents

The withdrawal from Syria and sale of missiles to Ankara will undermine U.S. efforts to work with partners and rebuff Russian influence.

Excerpt

When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan got on the phone with the White House last Friday, he wasn’t in much of a negotiating position. Facing economic recession, double-digit inflation, and strong opposition candidates in the run-up to local elections in March, the Turkish president might have expected some arm-twisting from his U.S. counterpart. Instead, Erdogan on Wednesday received two huge gifts from Donald Trump — gifts that undermine America’s efforts to work with Syrian partners and rebuff Russian influence.

The first gift is the announcement of U.S. withdrawal from Syria. According to The Wall Street Journal, Pentagon “has an order to move troops out of Syria as quickly as possible.” Reuters quotedU.S. official saying that Washington aims to “withdraw troops within 60 to 100 days” and the State Department “was evacuating all its personnel in Syria within 24 hours.”

Ankara has been threatening military operations against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a key component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, America’s Syrian partner in the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. has troops stationed in the territory, and so far has refrained from giving Erdogan a green light for a cross-border operation.

The second gift is the approval for the sale of Patriot missiles to Ankara. Instead of cancelling the order for Russian-made S-400 air defense system, Turkish officials said that they intend to buy both. Yet the S-400 is not only incompatible with NATO systems, but Turkey’s use of it alongside the F-35 would compromise the joint strike fighter’s stealth capabilities. Erdogan understands the technicalities, but this matter is as much about his personal protection as it is about his anti-Westernism, manifested repeatedly in his threats to the United States.

This dual accommodation of Erdogan through a pullout of U.S.forces from Syria and appeasement of his move to procure Russian military equipment is a windfall in the run up to Turkey’s local elections. Erdogan, desperate to divert the Turkish electorate’s attention from the country’s economic tailspin, has been reviving old enemies to appeal to his base, including George Soros, Gezi Park protesters, and Kurds. A military campaign targeting Syrian Kurdish rebels would provide the perfect “wag the dog” distraction from bankruptcies and currency devaluation at home.

By appeasing Erdogan when he is at his weakest and most vulnerable in the run up to elections, Trump is repeating old mistakes made with previous troop withdrawals, while increasing moral hazard. Such acts are dangerous not only for the Middle East, but also for the transatlantic alliance itself.

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Issues:

Iran Kurds Military and Political Power Syria Turkey