Erdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem senator says Zelensky was 'feeling the pressure' to probe Bidens 2020 Dems slam Trump decision on West Bank settlements Trump calls latest impeachment hearings 'a great day for Republicans' MORE, erstwhile businessman and "Art of the Deal" author, casts himself as a master negotiator. But experts say Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan got the best of Trump in negotiations over Syria.

A cease fire deal being hailed as a victory by Trump and Vice President Pence gave Erdoğan something he’s wanted for years — a zone in Syria that Turkey will have control over, essentially extending the Turkish border 20 miles south.

“I don’t understand what the Turks gave up, and I don’t think they gave up anything,” said Eric Edelman, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey under the George W. Bush administration. 
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From the moment Trump decided to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria after a call with Erdoğan, paving the way for Turkey to move forward with its long-threatened offensive against Syria Kurdish forces, experts say Erdoğan outmaneuvered Trump.
 
After the call, but before Erdoğan launched the operation, Trump sent him a letter saying, “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” according to a copy revealed this week.
 
A senior adviser to Erdoğan told NPR the letter was “absolutely irrelevant.” Former Turkish ambassador to the U.S. Namik Tan on Friday tweeted a New Yorker cartoon mocking Trump’s letter to Erdoğan with a similar letter to Santa Claus.
 
Erdoğan himself was more serious, saying Friday that the letter violated “political and diplomatic courtesy” and ominously warning that “when the time comes, we would like it to be known that we will take the necessary steps” to respond.
 
Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Trump lost his leverage to negotiate with both the Turks and the Kurds after the withdrawal and then the letter.
 
“In buttoning your shirt, if you start out wrong, it’ll be wrong at the end,” Aliriza said. “They’re denying it strenuously within the administration, but everything that happened, happened because of the phone call on the 6th.”
 
Amid fierce backlash against Trump’s withdrawal, including from GOP lawmakers typically seen as close allies, Trump dispatched Pence and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard Pompeo2020 Dems slam Trump decision on West Bank settlements Netanyahu calls Trump administration reversal on Israeli settlements a 'huge achievement' UN pushes back on US reversal on Israeli settlements MORE to negotiate a cease-fire with Erdoğan.

After hours of negotiation in Ankara on Thursday, Pence emerged to announce a deal. The Turks would stop their onslaught for 120 hours in order to allow a Kurdish force known as the YPG to evacuate. Once the evacuation is complete, Pence said, Turkey would maintain a “permanent cease-fire.”

Trump hailed the agreement as “a great day for civilization.”

But the criticism was swift.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate passes legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters Senators voice support for Iran protesters but stop short of taking action McConnell urges Trump to voice support for Hong Kong protesters MORE (R-Fla.) tweeted that it “looks like [Erdoğan] got everything he wanted,” while Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyProgressive Democrats ramp up attacks on private equity Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne Ocasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field MORE (R-Utah) on the Senate floor said the agreement was “far from a victory.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis Schumer2020 Republicans accuse Schumer of snubbing legislation Schumer: Leadership trying to work out competing surprise medical bill measures Top GOP senator: Drug pricing action unlikely before end of year MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: GOP senator says drug price action unlikely this year | House panel weighs ban on flavored e-cigs | New York sues Juul Five things to know about Tuesday's impeachment hearings McConnell hopes Senate impeachment trial 'not too lengthy a process' MORE (D-Calif.) called the cease-fire a “sham” in a joint statement, and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pentagon watchdog says Syria withdrawal hurt ISIS fight | Vindman testifies on third day of public hearings | Lawmakers to wrap up defense bill talks this week Lawmakers expect to finish defense policy bill negotiations this week Bipartisan senators urge national security adviser to appoint 5G coordinator MORE (D-R.I.) said in his own statement that “we appear to have given Erdoğan everything he wants while continuing the betrayal of our partners in the fight against ISIS.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, European Union Council President Donald Tusk said the agreement is “not a cease-fire.”

“The so-called cease-fire is not what we expected. In fact, it’s not a cease-fire, it’s a demand of capitulation of the Kurds,” he said.

According to a fact sheet given to reporters in Ankara, the so-called “safe zone” from which the YPG is expected to evacuate will be “primarily enforced” by Turkish forces. Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTalks stall on defense costs with South Korea Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Trump floats testifying in impeachment hearing MORE confirmed to reporters Friday that U.S. forces would not be involved in enforcing the safe zone.
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That means, critics say, Erdoğan won what he wanted all along.

“The Turks themselves are saying they got what they wanted," Aliriza said.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcConnell hopes Senate impeachment trial 'not too lengthy a process' Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack Prisons chief: FBI investigating whether 'criminal enterprise' played role in Epstein death MORE (R-S.C.), a typical Trump ally who has been leading the charge against his Syria withdrawal, called the agreement a “military occupation.”

“A buffer zone is acceptable to the Kurds but a military occupation that displaces hundreds of thousands is not a safe zone. It is ethnic cleansing,” Graham tweeted Friday after speaking with Gen. Mazloum Abdi, who commands the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Turkish officials were reportedly surprised at the ease with which the United States agreed to the deal. 

“We got everything we wanted,” an unnamed adviser to the Turkish Foreign Ministry told The Washington Post.

Amid the criticism that Trump was rolled, administration officials have defended the deal as saving lives.

“The United States said we were going to take down the violence, we want to save lives, we want to protect the Kurds from the threat from these Turkish forces,” Pompeo said in an interview with Politico on Friday. “And if we’re ultimately able to get the cease-fire implemented, we will have successfully achieved that.”

Following reports that the cease-fire was being broken Friday, Trump said Erdoğan told him the skirmishes were “quickly eliminated.”

“He very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work,” Trump tweeted about Erdoğan.

In a briefing after the deal was struck, Trump’s special envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey, said the administration thought the cease-fire would be “better for trying to get some kind of control over this chaotic situation” because it was the administration’s “assessment that [the YPG] had no military ability to hold onto these areas.” 

Former ambassador Edelman argued Jeffrey “gave the game away” by saying “we didn’t think the SDF could hold this territory anyway, so we basically agreed to let the Turks get what they wanted.”

And while the administration is arguing the cease-fire stops the bloodshed, Edelman warned that it doesn’t address “the issue of how do we repair the damage that had been done.”