As expected, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are leading a U.S. delegation to Turkey, where American officials hope to persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to implement a cease-fire in Syria. It is, by any fair measure, a White House attempt to clean up Donald Trump’s mess: the Republican’s decision to remove troops from northern Syria unleashed no small amount of hell in the region.
Whether the American president appreciates this or not, the administration isn’t speaking with one voice. NBC News’ report on the talks touched on an underappreciated point.
…Pence’s meeting with Erdogan comes hours after Trump dismissed Turkey’s invasion and said the fight was over land that “has nothing to do with us.”
“If Turkey goes into Syria, that’s between Turkey and Syria,” he said to reporters in the Oval Office. “It’s not between Turkey and the United States.”
The point Trump went to great lengths to drive home yesterday was that he does not care about the violence or its effects. Talking to reporters in the Oval Office, the American president dismissed our Kurdish allies, insisting they’re “no angels,” and suggesting at least some Kurds are dangerous terrorists. Trump added, in apparent reference to Turkish and Kurdish forces, “There’s a lot of sand that they can play with.”
The Republican added on Twitter this week, “The Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years…. Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them!”
So much for the White House’s commitment to a cease-fire.
The result is a contradiction for which there is no obvious resolution: the American vice president is in Ankara, eager to make clear that the United States cares, but his message is at odds with the American president’s explicit indifference.
Slate’s Joshua Keating had a good piece on the latest developments yesterday:
On Monday, Trump announced that he was imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and agencies, raising tariffs on its steel, and canceling upcoming trade talks…. According to Vice President Mike Pence, “President Trump communicated to him very clearly that the United States of America wants Turkey to stop the invasion, implement an immediate cease-fire and to begin to negotiate with Kurdish forces in Syria to bring an end to the violence.” Pence himself has been dispatched to Ankara along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with Erdogan to press him to negotiate a cease-fire.
Erdogan could be forgiven for being a little confused. Why is he being threatened and sanctioned for doing something that Trump gave him permission to do? As Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s most reliable toadies in Congress as well as one of his most outspoken critics on Syria, put it, “The statements by President Trump about Turkey’s invasion being of no concern to us also completely undercut Vice President Pence and Sec. Pompeo’s ability to end the conflict.” Yes, senator. They certainly do.
Trump isn’t just undercutting his own team; he’s also undercutting his own position. Yesterday, a reporter asked the president whether he has any regrets for having given Erdogan the green light for a military offensive against the Kurds.
“I didn’t give him a green light,” Trump replied. “When you make a statement like that, it’s so deceptive. Just the opposite of a green light.”
The evidence to the contrary is unambiguous.