Bizarre ‘tough guy’ letter offers unsettling peek into Trump’s skills

Updated

Last week, as Donald Trump moved U.S. troops out of northern Syria, clearing the way for a Turkish military offensive against our Kurdish allies, the American president reached out to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urging him to show some restraint. That, in and of itself, hardly seems notable.

What was extraordinary, however, was how the Republican communicated his concerns. This is the full text of a letter Trump sent Erdogan on Oct. 9,:

Dear Mr. President:

Let’s work out a good deal! You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy – and I will. I’ve already given you a little sample with respect to Pastor Brunson.

I have worked hard to solve some of your problems. Don’t let the world down. You can make a great deal. General Mazloum is willing to negotiate with you, and he is willing to make concessions that they would never have made in the past. I am confidentially enclosing a copy of his letter to me, just received.

History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!

I will call you later.

Sincerely,
[Trump’s handwritten signature]

Not surprisingly, after the correspondence was obtained by Fox Business’s Trish Regan yesterday, more than a few journalists, including my colleagues at MSNBC, reached out to the White House to make sure the letter was real. Officials confirmed its authenticity.

And with that in mind, let’s unpack what made the letter so extraordinary, because the document told us quite a bit.

For example, while written correspondence between American presidents and foreign heads of state tends to be formal and diplomatic, Donald Trump has the writing skills of an ill-tempered tween. We should probably take solace in the fact that his missive wasn’t scribbled in crayon.

What’s more, the Republican reportedly bragged about the letter during a meeting with congressional leaders yesterday afternoon, suggesting the leak of the correspondence was a deliberate White House plan, and further suggesting that Trump has no idea how embarrassing the document is.

But even if we put aside these relevant details, it’s Erdogan’s response to the correspondence that matters most. On Oct. 6, Trump told Erdogan he would move U.S. troops out of the way, clearing the way for Turkey’s offensive against our allies. On Oct. 9, Trump sent his counterpart a poorly written letter, warning him not to look like “the devil,” “a tough guy,” and “a fool.”

One need not wonder whether Erdogan found any of this intimidating: the Turkish president ignored Trump’s letter, reportedly throwing it in the trash, and launched a brutal military offensive anyway.

Trump routinely brags about how much respect he commands on the international stage. We’re occasionally reminded just how misguided those boasts are.