At present, the world is watching as conditions rapidly deteriorate in northern Syria, where following an abruptly announced U.S. troop withdrawal, Turkish forces have moved in to attack local Kurds. This week, a U.S. delegation is heading to Turkey to attempt to negotiate some kind of cease-fire — but things aren’t off to the best start. Initially, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flatly said he simply would not meet with Vice President Mike Pence and would only talk to President Donald Trump himself about the situation. Erdogan eventually said he’d meet with Pence after all, but how can anyone count on constructive results with this kind of back-and-forth?
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo:
‘At this point, the vice president and I are planning to take off later this afternoon. And we have every expectation that we will meet with President Erdogan. And it’s important, Maria, we need to have this conversation with him directly… We need them to stand down. We need a cease fire. At which point, we can begin to put this all back together again.’
Erdogan has flatly said he’s not interested in a cease-fire. This week, he told reporters:
‘They say ‘declare a ceasefire’. We will never declare a ceasefire.’
In other words, these negotiations seem to be at an impasse before they’ve even started.
Besides this effort, the Trump administration has also imposed sanctions on the Turkish economy, but those have had little substantive effect. Following their imposition, the overall value of Turkish currency actually firmed relative to the U.S. dollar. That’s not exactly the sign of the kind of economy in ruins that Trump promised he’d spark if Turkey went out of line.
This entire military campaign constitutes Turkey going “out of line.” Some 200 civilians and counting have been killed in the country’s onslaught, and many more have been wounded. A whopping 130,000 people and counting have already been displaced, and the operation has barely been ongoing for a week. The destruction has reached such a scope that there have been fears of Turkey implementing an “ethnic cleansing” operation targeting Kurds — who fought alongside the U.S. in the struggle against ISIS, which now has an opening to restrengthen thanks to the U.S. abruptly withdrawing from the region.
Trump has attempted to defend the withdrawal via claiming he’s just trying to get the U.S. out of “endless wars” and pointing to the long history of conflict between the Kurds and Turks as an attempted excuse for why he’s just abruptly abandoned an ally after he felt they could no longer be of immediate material benefit to the United States.
Figures like Trump administration Defense Secretary Mark Esper have pointed to the supposed alliance of Turkey with U.S. interests as an attempted reason for approaching the situation with as much of a hands-off approach as the Trump administration has employed — but how long does this alliance go? What atrocity would have to be committed for the Trump team to actually act more decisively?