This week, President Trump will welcome Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to the White House. The visit is a coup for Erdogan. It enables him to show that he got his way in Syria at the expense of America’s main partner in the fight against ISIS, yet remains in Trump’s good graces.
Thus, there is no doubt as to why Erdogan agreed to come here.
But why did Trump reward Erdogan with a White House visit? Certainly not because Erdogan is on board with any important aspect of American foreign policy. As Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, observes:
When one looks at Trump’s foreign policy, Turkey seems to be at odds with every core pillar of it, whether it’s enforcing sanctions on Iran, isolating Hamas, countering the Muslim Brotherhood, defeating ISIS, or blocking Iran from gaining access to new territory in the Middle East. Turkey appears to be undermining all of these things, and Trump continues to turn a blind eye.
I suspect that Trump simply likes hosting important leaders, especially if they are “strongmen.” He’s not unique in this regard. President Obama was into Erdogan too. But Obama was less intent than Trump says he is on countering Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, so Obama’s coziness with Turkey’s thuggish leader made more sense than Trump’s does.
Erdogan’s visit will provide Trump with an occasion to tout his withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria. However, the withdrawal apparently is quite incomplete. On Sunday, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff announced that as many as 600 U.S. troops will remain in northeastern Syria to continue counterterrorism operations against ISIS. If so, the troop level will be reduced by less than half.
That’s a good thing, in my view. However, Trump’s inability to make up his mind about U.S. troops in Syria is somewhat disconcerting.