Trump backs Turkey, slams France on NATO issues

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS TODAYS OPINION BY SET H J. FRANTZMAN

Trump now appears as a sudden “champion” of NATO as he seeks closer relations with Ankara and speaks of potential talks with Moscow

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN   DECEMBER 3, 2019 21:38 – JERUSALEM POST

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) and President Donald Trump tout a US-Iranian summit as they address a joint news conference on August 26 at the end of the G7 summit in Biarritz, France

US President Donald Trump is suddenly the greatest champion of NATO, years after being critiqued for upbraiding the alliance. In comments about Turkey and French President Emmanuel Macron, the US president appeared to side with Turkey on a series of issues. Turkish media is celebrating, noting that Trump laughed at the idea of Turkey not being able to use the S-400 air defense system it bought from Russia. The one-time “bromance” with Macron is off.

Trump blamed the Obama administration for harming relations with Turkey, claiming that it wouldn’t let Turkey buy Patriot missiles. This apparently led to Ankara buying air defense from Moscow in 2017. Macron has been critical of Turkey’s S-400 purchase and its role in northern Syria. Macron has argued that NATO has lost its way as Turkey attacked areas that  the US and the Syrian Democratic Forces had been present in. Trump withdrew US forces from part of northern Syria in October, paving the way for Turkey and Turkish-backed mercenaries to attack Kurdish fighters who had been fighting ISIS. It now appears that Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and anti-ISIS envoy James Jeffrey were in line with Turkey’s policy and quietly accepted its invasion, so long as the invasion didn’t go too far. NATO also backed Turkey, claiming it should show only some restraint.

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Turkey’s restraint was called into question just a day before the NATO summit after shelling from the Turkish side of northern Syria killed at least eight children in Tal Rifaat. But while Macron has been interested in the tragedies of northern Syria, Trump has increasingly backed Turkey. The US now will comply with Turkey’s demands to study the S-400 issue.

The US’s main goal in Syria now is to get the Syrian Democratic Forces, which it trained around 100,000 members of, to secure ISIS prisoners. To do that the SDF needs funding and infrastructure  so the US sent forces back to Syria to secure oil wells. Now  eastern Syria is carved up between Russian military police, Syrian regime soldiers, Turkish-backed Syrian rebels who are accused of human rights abuses, and Kurdish forces, with US forces in two of the country’s provinces.

Trump was seen as an enfant terrible of NATO when he came into office, with claims that he didn’t care about the alliance or its provisions on protections against Russian aggression. Trump  criticized other NATO members for not paying enough. He wanted countries paying 2% of GDP on defense, while many pay much less. The US is paying around 3.4%. It turns out Trump’s critiques paid off. After slamming NATO and calling US contributions “unfair” in 2018, NATO is turning a corner this year on budget issues.

The Russia issue plays into this. The Trump administration has been accused of being tough on Ukraine and is in the midst of impeachment hearings. Ukraine is fighting a conflict against Russian-backed separatists and Ukraine was supported by the Obama administration. For the Trump administraton most Obama-era policies are seen as in need of reversal. That is one reason Trump advisers want to reverse course on Turkey, and revive Turkey as an ally, hoping it can be used against Iran. Turkey has major trade deals with Iran, but the administration thinks that can change. Turkey’s S-400 purchase is not a concern for the Trump administration as much because the administration would like to find a way to work more closely with Russia as well. Trump said, in a meeting with Macron, that the US could get along with Russia.

Macron now seems to be the odd-man out as Trump  has become a champion of NATO. He slammed Macron’s comments about NATO being “brain dead.” He called the comments “nasty.” He also mocked Macron, offering him some “nice ISIS fighters.” The two quibbled over the number of foreign fighters in Syria who are being detained by the SDF. The US wants the repatriated so that the US can draw down more forces in Syria. But European countries won’t take their citizens back. Ireland took back one woman named Lisa Smith this week, but there are thought to be up to 2,000 citizens from Europe and other countries in eastern Syria, as well as tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian ISIS detainees. These include women and children. Some European countries have sought to strip their citizens of citizenship. Trump has excoriated Europe for not taking responsibility. Here Trump probably find another common cause with Turkey which began forcibly repatriating European ISIS members last month.

 

Trump respects the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strength and the way he gets what he wants. Trump likes to back strong men and winners, part of his overall worldview on business and world affairs. For him Turkey is a winner because it does what it wants. It buys Russian weapons, it invades  Syria, and it sends ISIS suspects back, and European countries may complain but they comply. Trump also sought to pose as pro-NATO in order to get back at Macron for comments Macron made in the past. For instance Macron had  critiqued the US withdrawal from Syria in October, claiming they were not informed about it. Trump then called Macron “foolish” over a digital tax and called him “insulting.”

Trump feels he has outplayed NATO, claiming at his behest countries have bent to America’s will and that those who do not bend will be “dealt with,” according to comments reported by CNN. “Maybe I’ll deal with them from a trade standpoint. Maybe I’ll deal with them in a different way, we don’t want to have people be delinquent.” Trump was speaking more about someone late on their rent than a NATO alliance, but the comments sank in. Trump’s  administration has already indicated it could slap French wine with a 100% tariff. France vowed revenge if it faces these tariffs.

Trump’s overall worldview is that he prefers Turkey, Russia and other states than western European countries. One can deal with them, in his view. There is one person to talk to. Even though US Senators have expressed concern about Turkey’s drive to turn the S-400s on, Trump doesn’t appear concerned. The Trump administration also sought to block an Armenian genocide resolution after the Turkish leader’s visit. Turkey may become Trump’s closest ally in coming months if the trend continues. This will have ramifications for Israel, which Turkey’s leader has compared to Nazi Germany. Trump’s administration has also expressed support  for Israel against Iran, but is also looking askance at the inability of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government. Turkey, despite the S-400s and trade with Iran, may be seen as a country to have Trump’s next “bromance” with, now that Macron is out in the cold.