White House

Lopsided cease-fire ‘deal’ emboldens Turkey, harms U.S. allies

Temporary, nonbinding, requiring nothing: ‘We got what we wanted,’ foreign minister says

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 10. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

ANALYSIS — President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that Vice President Mike Pence had reached an agreement with Turkey’s president for a halt to hostilities in northern Syria.

“This is a great day for civilization,” Trump wrote. “People have been trying to make this “Deal” for many years.”

Maybe he put “Deal” in quotes because it really isn’t one.

Pence called it a “cease-fire.” But such a pact usually involves all warring parties. This one, by contrast, includes only the invaders, Turkey.

This agreement merely cements that country’s battlefield gains and immediately undoes U.S. sanctions levied against it just this week after Turkey bombed and invaded northern Syria eight days ago.

For good measure, the five-day cease-fire is not binding or permanent and does not require Turkey to give up anything.

The “deal” does — or doesn’t do — all these things in a way that severely disadvantages a U.S. ally, the Syrian Kurds, who just suffered 11,000 casualties in leading the way to a victory for America against Islamic State terrorists. It’s a victory that may be imperiled now if ISIS members are sprung from jails amid the chaos ensuing from Turkey’s invasion.

[Kurds are ‘no angels’ and their fight with Turkey is ‘not our problem,’ Trump says]

“The decision to abandon the Kurds violates one of our most sacred duties; it strikes at American honor,” Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said in a floor speech Thursday. “What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history.”

Another GOP hawk, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, in a floor speech of his own said Thursday’s agreement is in reality just an “ultimatum” from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — one the U.S. government has just ratified — that says: “The Kurds are either leaving the area voluntarily in the next five days or I’ll move in and take it and kill them.”

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the cease-fire “a feeble attempt to close a self-inflicted wound.”

Green light?

And all this, of course, happened after Trump and Erdogan talked by phone on Oct. 6. Trump and his supporters have suggested that phone call and the subsequent invasion were essentially unrelated events — that Turkey had already made up its mind to act, regardless of what Trump said or did.

But the White House announced right after the call that Turkey’s invasion would be coming soon. Whether or not Trump encouraged that invasion in the phone call, he manifestly did not discourage it enough to keep it from happening.

And, contributing to the sense that Trump gave Erdogan a green light, the White House also announced on Oct. 6 the withdrawal all 1,000 of the U.S. troops from northern Syria.

That withdrawal, which officials called “deliberate,” was in reality accomplished in such haste that U.S. warplanes had to bomb newly abandoned U.S. bases where ammunition had been stored — weapons that could not be extracted safely, given the rush.

[Rare, and unapologetic, bipartisan congressional rebuke for Trump on Syria]

Russian soldiers even filmed the detritus of an American base left hastily behind, and the Russians trumpeted the video online as a propaganda coup.

Turkey, which would know, thinks it is the winner in the “deal.”

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said Thursday that the agreement is actually merely a “pause for our operation.”

“We got what we wanted,” Cavusoglu said.

Winners, losers

Assuming Turkey abides by its end of the agreement, the “deal” only provides for a five-day halt to Turkish attacks in exchange for Kurds leaving the area within 20 miles of the Turkish border.

But since the Kurds were not party to the agreement, there is no guarantee they will go anywhere. And Cavusoglu made clear that Turkish troops, for their part, are not going to retreat from the swath of territory near their border that they have seized.

Romney wondered aloud on the Senate floor why the White House did not reach an agreement of some kind with Turkey two weeks ago, prior to the invasion.

In the wake of this month’s chaos, Romney and Rubio both said the winners in the Mideast are America’s foes: Russia, whose stature as a player in the region waxed instantly this week; Iran, which has reason to question U.S. commitments in the region; and Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom the Kurds have had to turn to for support and who has won back from the Kurds nearly a third of Syria that he had lost on the battlefield in the eight-year-old Syrian civil war.

“This decision makes it likelier there will be a war” that would be much larger than the one that has hit the pause button in northern Syria, Rubio said.

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