Erdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment 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 PompeoOvernight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Cheney calls for Turkish leader's bodyguards to be banned from re-entering US Pompeo: Trump to discuss political solution for Syria in meeting with Erdoğan 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 RubioGOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump Paul's demand to out whistleblower rankles GOP colleagues MORE (R-Fla.) tweeted that it “looks like [Erdoğan] got everything he wanted,” while Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyClub for Growth extends advertising against House Dems over impeachment Pennsylvania's other election-night story This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry MORE (R-Utah) on the Senate floor said the agreement was “far from a victory.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerIlhan Omar blasts Pete King as an 'Islamophobe' after he announces retirement: 'Good riddance' Top Senate Dem: Officials timed immigration policy around 2020 election Senate fight derails bipartisan drug pricing bills MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats sharpen their message on impeachment Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate Siren song of impeachment lures Democrats toward election doom 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 ReedIt's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number America's avengers deserve an advocate Democrats unifying against Joe Kennedy Senate bid 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 EsperOvernight Defense: Pentagon says Syrian oil revenue going to Kurdish forces | GOP chair accuses Dems of using Space Force as leverage in wall fight | Dems drop plans to seek Bolton testimony Pentagon: Revenue from Syria oil fields going to Kurdish-led forces The Hill's Morning Report - Dems poised to air alleged Trump abuses on TV 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 GrahamLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Trump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment drama will dominate this week 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.”