Tensions with Turkey are mounting after President Donald Trump decided to withdraw troops from Northern Syria.
In response to this move, the Democratic-controlled house decided to vote for sanctions against Turkey, which has been sending its own troops into the region.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the White House on Thursday, November 14, 2019. Trump received him well, whereas elected officials on both sides of the aisle gave Erdogan a cold response.
“It was certainly not a good time, at least, for Mr. Erdogan to be at the White House,” said Senator Mitt Romney, a passionate Trump critic. Romney called for “a series of actions sanctioning Turkey for going against the interests of our country and our ally, the Kurds.”
Senator John Cornyn added, “Erdogan’s been consistently bad news for the people of Turkey and NATO. So I’m concerned about it. I think [sanctions] are likely.” Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has remained cautious about sanctioning Turkey for now but told reporters on Thursday that the subject is still being discussed by Senators.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch is holding off on sanctions for the time being. He hopes that the U.S. can reach an agreement with Turkey over the country’s recent purchase of Russian S-400 missiles, which is expected to activate economic penalties from the United States. However, he also said that this committee will prepare a sanctions bill in the meantime, and put the ball in McConnell’s court.
“Probably it’s best we don’t pass a sanctions bill at this moment,” Risch said, encouraging the use of diplomacy between Erdogan and Trump instead.
“It’s appropriate to put pressure on them to do the right thing, not just with regard to the Kurds, with regard to Syria generally,” added Senator Rob Portman. “The Russian anti-aircraft system that they’re on board with makes it very hard for us to treat them as a normal NATO ally.”
Trump expects the ceasefire between the Kurds and Turkey to continue, but other Senate Republicans aren’t so optimistic.
“Erdogan’s probably going to move against Kobani, which is a traditional majority-Kurdish city,” Senator Marco Rubio speculated. “The last US troops in that area finally left, it took them two weeks to break down and move. And I think he’s going to view that as a chance to come in and grab that city. … That’s going to probably scramble all of this stuff again.”
Trump is handling this situation with a diplomatic calm that his neoconservative and neoliberal predecessors generally did not exercise.
Unlike previous governments, Trump isn’t taking cues from defense contractors and is using tough diplomacy to advance U.S. interests and keep it out of foreign policy quagmires. For American First supporters, Trump’s approach to foreign policy isn’t ideal, but he has at least kept the country from entering new conflicts.