Turks Continue Offensive As Trump Imposes Weak-Kneed Sanctions

As the Turkish invasion of northern Syria continues, Donald Trump responds with basically nothing.

After basically stepping aside and allowing the Turks to do whatever they want in northern Syria, the Trump Administration is now calling for Turkish restraint and imposing some weak-sauce sanctions on the country that are unlikely to stop the military advances:

The Trump administration called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to implement an immediate cease-fire in northern Syria and imposed sanctions against Turkey on Monday in response to its military aggression, as the situation on the ground continued to deteriorate after President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces.

Vice President Pence announced that he and national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien would lead a delegation to Turkey in the “immediate future” in an effort to end the violence in the region that has increasingly become a political problem for Trump at home.

Pence said that Erdogan and Trump spoke by phone on Monday and that the president “communicated to him very clearly that the United States of America wants Turkey to stop the invasion, to implement an immediate cease-fire and to begin to negotiate with Kurdish forces in Syria to bring an end to the violence.”

Trump has faced intense criticism, including from leading Republicans, for his decision to pull the troops, and he has been under pressure to get Turkey to back off its military incursion, which has targeted Kurdish fighters who have aided the United States in combating the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

“For years, the United States and our Syrian Kurdish partners have fought heroically to corner ISIS and destroy its physical caliphate,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday. “Abandoning this fight now and withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria would re-create the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS.”

The sanctions are aimed at Turkey’s Defense and Energy ministries, as well as three senior Turkish officials. Among them was the interior minister, a powerful position responsible for domestic security.

Despite the sanctions move and tough rhetoric from administration officials, Trump continued to defend his decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria even though he was warned in advance that it would result in the mayhem occurring now.

“After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria. Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land. I said to my Generals, why should we be fighting for Syria and Assad to protect the land of our enemy?” Trump tweeted, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

Along with the sanctions, Trump also said that tariffs on steel imports from Turkey will be raised 50 percent and that the United States has halted negotiations over a $100 billion trade deal with the country.

Here are the President’s tweets on the matter:

In reality, of course, the “sanctions” that Trump imposed last night are not likely to provoke any kind of conciliatory response from Turkey at this point. First of all, the sanctions are primarily directed at individuals in the Turkish government rather than the Turkish government or military. They are basically just symbolic acts designed to make it seem as though the Administration is doing something when it clearly isn’t doing anything. Similarly, the tariffs on Turkish steel are going to punish American businesses and consumers as much as (if not more than) it will impact Turkish businesses or the Turkish government. Finally, the fact that this is coming mere days after the President effectively gave the Turks a green light in northern Syria just serves to muddy the water and cause people to wonder exactly what our foreign policy actually is. This isn’t going to make things any clearer.

While Trump tries to have it both ways, the offensive in northern Syria continues, with Syrian troops taking up positions alongside their new allies the Syrian Kurds:

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad advanced Monday into several key towns across northeastern Syria after an 11th-hour deal with local Kurdish fighters, dramatically altering the balance of power inside the war-battered country.

Under the deal, which aimed to forestall a Turkish assault against the Kurds, Syrian government forces arrived in the towns of Tabqa, on the outskirts of Raqqa, and Ain Issa, which served as the headquarters of the Kurdish-led autonomous administration in northeast Syria, about 20 miles from the Turkish border. Images published by the official Syrian Arab News Agency showed government troops arriving atop pickup trucks and waving Syrian flags.

The swift Syrian advance was set in motion by President Trump’s abrupt decision in recent days to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, leaving Kurdish forces long allied with the United States vulnerable to attack from the Turkish military.

Turkey has been pressing an offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters because of their links to Kurdish militants inside Turkey. The military campaign has been condemned by many of Turkey’s Western allies, including the United States, which have warned in part that the escalating violence could give the Islamic State a chance to regenerate its insurgency less than a year after the militant group’s territorial “caliphate” was defeated. ‘


The military campaign is taking a huge toll on tens of thousands of Syrians, with the United Nations reporting that as many as 160,000 people, including 70,000 children, have been displaced since the fighting in northeast Syria escalated nearly a week ago.

As the violence has spiked, aid agencies have been scaling back or suspending humanitarian operations because of shelling, road closures and other threats. All international aid groups have now withdrawn their personnel, according to the Kurdish Red Crescent.

“This is our nightmare scenario. There are tens of thousands of people on the run, and we have no way of getting to them,” said Made Ferguson, deputy country director for Syria at Mercy Corps, a U.S.-based aid agency. “The humanitarian crisis is worsening by the day, and now aid workers are cut off from providing lifesaving assistance to the most vulnerable.”

The longer this goes on, the less credibility the United States is going to have on the world stage. President Trump has already caused immeasurable damage due to his hasty, unplanned, and uncoordinated withdrawal from Syria and the extent to which he has stabbed a former ally in the back. As I have said before, actions like this will raise questions all around the world about how much the United States can be trusted to live up to obligations to allies and will likely give future potential allies pausing to wonder whether they can count on the fact that the United States will be there for them when the going gets tough. This will reverberate far long after President Trump leaves office, whether that happens in 2021 or 2025, and the President that follows him will have much work to do to re-establish trust in America on the world stage. Assuming that’s even possible.

Meanwhile, as I noted yesterday, the biggest winners from this whole debacle will be the Syrian government, which has been responsible for tens of thousands of death since the civil war started in 2011, and their patrons in Russia who suddenly find themselves filling in the gap left by the abdication of the United States. Another beneficiary, of course, will likely be ISIS, which will see many of the formerly detained troops return to its ranks and, potentially, a widening of its network in Europe as formerly detained prisoners who are from western Europe seek to return home, potentially to renew the string of terror attacks we saw there just a few years ago. And all of this will end up being something we’ll have to deal with, under even worse circumstances, in the future.

Thanks for nothing, Trump.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, National Security, Politicians, Syria, Terrorism, Turkey, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Hal_10000 says:

    When Trump came in, the situation with the Kurds was delicate but stable. The Kurds wanted independence; the Turks didn’t want them to have it. But we’d managed to stay friends with both sides. Now a genocide is happening and both sides despise us.

    So tired of all the winning.

  2. Scott says:

    Tariffs? Good Grief. Trump is a one trick pony.

    Sending Pence to negotiate does two things: 1) Lets Pence fail 2) Prevents Trump from showing, yet again, that he can’t negotiate crapola.

  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    …“sanctions” that Trump imposed last night are not likely to provoke any kind of conciliatory response from Turkey…

    But the rubes and Faux News consumers listening to Hannity et. al., will believe that these are as effective as those imposed against North Korea, providing Tiny’s great win there.

    While in the real world 75 years of America attempting to sustain a world based on law and negotiated agreements (and to note, very mixed success) has been laid to waste.

  4. Pylon says:

    Note: Trump has not even imposed sanctions yet, weak or not. He has said “I’m going to”, but nothing has actually happened yet.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Pylon: Don’t worry, he’s gonna show them. His lawyer’s gonna beat their lawyer up. Wait a minute… Is Rudy his lawyer again?

  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    The order says sanctions will apply to;

    “…and any persons contributing to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in northeast Syria.”

    Well, fuq…Trump has contributed the most to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in northeast Syria…indeed, he is the one person who made those actions possible…so he is sanctioning himself???
    What a fuqing bunch of clowns.

  7. Kathy says:

    The essence of the Trump problem, is that he goes for half-assed “solutions” to “fix” various crises he put his full-ass into creating in the first place.

  8. Gustopher says:

    “Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

    Explicitly inviting the Russians to take over was a nice touch.

  9. mattbernius says:

    Looking forward to the moment when our brave Trump supporting posters have to defend the latest Trump messaging, including that the Kurds are a greater threat than ISIS.