Earlier this month, Donald Trump decided to abruptly withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria — and give the Turkish government tacit permission to invade the territory and lay waste to the Kurdish forces who had shed blood on America’s behalf in the war against ISIS. Since then, hundreds of Kurds have lost their lives, thousands have been displaced, and more than 1,000 ISIS supporters have broken out of prison camps in the region.
The worst of the Turkish incursion may now be over. On Thursday, Vice-President Mike Pence announced that Turkey had agreed to a temporary cease-fire. Under the terms of the agreement, Turkish president Recep Erdogan’s government will give the Syrian Kurds five days to flee the territory it has invaded before it will once again seek to secure the area by force. Assuming the withdrawal goes according to plan, Turkey will then make the cease-fire permanent. Erdogan’s government has promised to renew its cooperation in countering ISIS in the region, including by aiding U.S. efforts to secure ISIS detainees.
In exchange for these mercies, the U.S. has committed to facilitating the Kurdish withdrawal (a.k.a. the ethnic cleansing of northeastern Syria), holding off from imposing any new economic sanctions on Turkey, and removing the sanctions it implemented last week as soon as a permanent cease-fire is established.
The president was unabashed in his enthusiasm for the settlement.
“It’s a great day for the United States, it’s a great day for Turkey,” Trump said to reporters Thursday afternoon. “It’s a great day for the Kurds. It’s really a great day for civilization … I just want to thank and congratulate President Erdogan. He’s a friend of mine, and I’m glad we didn’t have a problem, because frankly he is a hell of a leader and a tough man, a strong man.”
It is unclear whether the cease-fire will hold, or what future awaits America’s erstwhile Kurdish allies (asked to shed some light on that subject Thursday, Pence replied that the cease-fire agreement “ends the violence — which is what President Trump sent us here to do”). But even if one takes the rosiest possible view, the question remains: Why didn’t the U.S. at least try to negotiate a similar agreement before it allowed Turkey to rain hell on America’s allies and to create the conditions for the escape of ISIS prisoners?