‘It’s a shame and it’s infuriating’

In the wake of the announcement that ISIS had been defeated, the US withdrew troops from Syria, with an understanding that there wouldn’t be fighting between the Kurds and Turkey. However, President Erdogan took the opportunity to launch an invasion into Northern Syria and push back the US-backed Kurdish fighters. As a result, Trump sent a letter to Erdogan threatening economic sanctions and requesting he negotiate with Kurdish leaders. 

Trump’s letter is an embarrassment. Not because of its threatening tone or lack of verbosity, but for its disgusting insincerity. If Trump cared about the Kurdish people, he wouldn’t be withdrawing troops from Syria. The letter is an attempt (admittedly, a mind-bogglingly pathetic attempt) by Trump to save face. Being widely panned for his decision to withdraw from Syria must have made him think twice – about himself. Let’s take the letter seriously, it’s from the leader of the free world after all.

Firstly, there is the threat of economic sanctions in the place of military involvement. This is an inferior shield to the Kurdish people. The threat of economic sanctions, without military intervention, is only effective as a deterrent. Should Erdogan decide to begin killing the Kurds, the sanctions can’t stop him. By way of assurance, in his letter Trump references the case of Pastor Brunman as an instance where such economic sanctions worked (the Turkish government backed-down from arresting Mr Brunman, and permitted him to return to the US). The implied argument then, is that such sanctions – increasing tariffs on Turkish products – will work again. The comparison is a flawed one. Without meaning to sound callous, Brunman was a relatively minor issue. He was one man, and almost entirely unimportant to Erdogan’s regime. The issue of the protection of the Kurds has higher stakes – potentially millions of lives. It is entirely possible that the Turkish regime will decide to take the hit, in which case, without the military intervention Trump appears so opposed to, the Kurds will die.To those squealing readers who don’t believe that military-force can have any positive effect, I direct your attention to NATO intervention in Kosovo. Bankrolled almost entirely by the US, the air-strikes there drastically shortened the war.

Secondly, and this has not been brought up much, there is the issue that Trump broke confidentiality. He includes, to Erdogan, a private letter written by Mazloum Abdi – the nominal Kurdish leader. In this letter, Abdi states his willingness “to make concessions that [he] would never have made in the past”. Other than being a disgraceful betrayal of principle, this is, to put it bluntly, incredible. Should the Kurds attempt to bluff – a viable, if desperate, negotiation strategy – Erdogan will see right through it. It is almost as though Trump is now working with the Turks against the Kurds, rather than with the Kurds against the Turks.

The only thing I can praise the letter for is its clear, stern tone. Generally, there is too much pandering to dictators, and too much spineless verbosity in diplomacy where there ought to be solid principle. It’s a shame and it’s infuriating that it’s just phoney.

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Gabriel Ward

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June 2022
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