President Trump says he will raise tariffs on Turkish steel due to Turkey’s invasion of Syria. He will also halt negotiations on a trade deal. In addition, certain Turkish ministers associated with the invasion will be sanctioned.
Trump notes that “Turkey’s military offensive is endangering civilians and threatens peace, security and stability in the region.” The result, he adds, is a “humanitarian crisis” that “Turkey does not seem to be mitigating.”
What did Trump expect when he green lighted the Turkish invasion by withdrawing U.S. troops, a garden party?
Trump’s imposition of sanctions seems odd for reasons other than just his advance approval, in effect, of the invasion. The most sensible strategic justification for withdrawing our troops was to gain the favor of Turkey which, though not a true ally, is a huge player in the region and one we have cooperated with on some matters.
The withdrawal isn’t just an act of good will to Erdogan. The Turkish people overwhelmingly favor the attack. Thus, standing in the way of a Turkish invasion might have had an adverse impact, from the American standpoint, on Turkey’s post-Erdogan future.
But if our goals were to improve relations with Erdogan and to be seen in a favorable light by the Turkish people, then imposing sanctions on Turkey strikes me as counterproductive, if not ridiculous. We seem to be appeasing Turkey and punishing it, simultaneously.
Perhaps Trump’s move makes sense if the sanctions won’t hurt Turkey’s economy and if Trump told Erdogan in advance that he likely would have to impose them to keep up appearances. But if the sanctions lack bite, they don’t really keep up appearances. They just make Trump look like Barack Obama.
Oddly, as I understand it, there are actually sanctions that, by operation of law, Trump should have already imposed on Turkey. These sanctions are for Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 missile defense system from Russia and for the participation of Halkbank, a state run Turkish bank, in busting sanctions against Iran.
Trump has not imposed these sanctions.
These considerations give rise to the suspicion that Trump is acting here by the seat of his pants. Michael Brendan Dougherty at NRO puts it this way:
It just feels random. Trump has been adverting that the United States was getting out of wasteful wars in the Middle East, but the mix of signals sent to Turkey — praise as a NATO ally, criticism as a power acting in Syria, and likely-ineffectual tariffs — seems to contain all the contradictions of Trump’s campaign rhetoric. In other words, I think what we’ve seen in the last week is Trump unleashed from his own advisors.