President Trump — amidst a slew of tweets on Sunday evening that included a jab at Elizabeth Warren and her husband, in addition to taunting Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — announced what appears to be another change in U.S. foreign policy regarding Syria.
“Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions. Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone,” the president wrote, before continuing in another tweet, “Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey,” Trump continued. “Russia, Iran and Syria have been the biggest beneficiaries of the long term U.S. policy of destroying ISIS in Syria – natural enemies. We also benefit but it is now time to bring our troops back home. Stop the ENDLESS WARS!”
Turkey, which has had a complicated relationship with the United States during the Syrian civil war, has functioned as a NATO ally in the Middle East. The U.S. has called upon Turkey to help control the threat of ISIS. Turkey has, at the same time, threatened to use this opportunity to seize territory from Syria — while the nation is fractured, and while the U.S. begins the sudden withdrawal of troops.
Mr @realDonaldTrump Terrorists can’t be your partners & allies. Turkey expects the US to honor our strategic partnership and doesn’t want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda.
There is no difference between DAESH, PKK, PYD and YPG. We will continue to fight against them all. https://t.co/Yyzgyp9RQ4
— Ibrahim Kalin (@ikalin1) January 13, 2019
Borzou Daragahi of the Independent suggested, via Twitter, that such an action by President Trump would serve to align Turkey with Iran and Russia — and would leave the fight against ISIS in the hands of that triumvirate. President Trump’s tweet also appears to undermine Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who recently promised that the United States would get “every Iranian boot” out of Syria, according to the BBC.
President Trump’s declaration of a “20 mile safe zone” has not yet been clarified by the president, leaving open the question of who would create and enforce it, where it would be, how long it would remain in effect, who would pay for it, and who would monitor the airspace above it.
Last month, President Trump created waves with a Twitter announcement that ISIS had been defeated — and that the United States would immediately withdraw troops from Syria. The move brought the immediate resignation of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and forced National Security Advisor John Bolton to contradict the president’s time-line for withdrawal, according to the Washington Post. Bolton maintained that the withdrawal from Syria would be conditional upon certain “objectives” being met. Kurdish allies in northern Syria feared Turkish aggression against their forces should the United States suddenly withdraw military forces.
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) January 14, 2019
Pompeo defended President Trump’s decision as a reaction to those Kurdish fears, arguing that it illustrates an American commitment to their partners, according to CBS.
“The administration has been very consistent with respect to our requirement that the Turks not go after the Kurds in ways that are inappropriate,” Pompeo said. “If they are terrorists, we’re all about taking down extremists wherever we find them. I think the president’s comments this morning are consistent with that.”
Pompeo also said that President Trump is working to balance that commitment to Kurdish allies with assurances to Turkey.
“Yeah, look when President Erdogan and President Trump spoke, they talked about this issue. The Turks have made clear that they understand that there are folks down in Syria that have their rights,” Pompeo said. “We also want to make sure that those in Syria aren’t attacking — terrorists aren’t attacking Turkey from Syria. We’re fully engaged. Ambassador Jeffrey is fully engaged in conversations with the Turks as well as with the SDF in Syria to make sure that we accomplish all of those missions. We can — we can do each of those things.”
Turkish officials were dismissive of President Trump’s threat, and regard the Kurdish militia as terrorists, according to the BBC.
“You cannot get anywhere by threatening Turkey economically,” Foreign Minister Nevlut Cavusoglu said. “We have said multiple times that we will not fear or be deterred by any threat.”
He also criticized President Trump’s methods, saying: “Strategic alliances should not be discussed over Twitter or social media.”
Regarding the Kurdish militia, Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman for President Erdogan, said: “Terrorists can’t be your partners and allies.”