Anger in Congress, surprise at the State Department and Pentagon, concern among allies and partners: Donald Trump’s decision to abandon long-standing, bipartisan American support for the Kurds sparked a plethora of reactions, as the US president’s erratic behavior becomes harder to follow, much less interpret.
In this decision, as in others, the unpredictable US president was acting on impulse rather than a plan. He made a decision based on his “personal preferences,” which, however, appear at odds with the established position on American national interests and strategic priorities.
Trump spoke with his “friend,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and gave him the green light to launch military operations. Then he threatened to destroy the Turkish economy if the latter went too far. And then Trump announced that Erdogan would be visiting Washington on November 13.
Surprised and dismayed, the Pentagon announced that the US does not support a Turkish operation against the Kurds, and has warned of the negative consequences of such actions. The US will lose what influence it had as a result of its alliance with the openly pro-American Kurds in the Middle East, seeming, instead, to side with the almost openly anti-American Turkish president. This is a recipe not just for failure, but for a dangerous regional conflagration at the expense firstly of the Kurds, who feel betrayed, but also of America’s credibility.
US allies, including Greece and Cyprus, but also its geopolitical rivals are not sure what to make of Trump’s behavior and what it may entail in terms of world peace and stability in specific areas. More specifically for Greece, just a couple of days after the positive mood created by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Athens – where he signed an important bilateral defense agreement and sent reassuring messages regarding support for Greece and Cyprus in the event of Turkish violations of international law – Trump’s move caused confusion and doubt. Officials and the Greek people wonder if Trump is bound by Pompeo’s reassurances?
One of the US president’s closest allies, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, announced a joint initiative with Democrat Chris Van Hollen to introduce bipartisan sanctions against Turkey and to suspend it from NATO in the event that it carries out plans to invade Syria and defeat Kurdish forces, which, as the senators noted, helped the US destroy the Islamic State.
After sending shock waves across the global markets by declaring a trade war on China and lately on the European Union, the unpredictable US president is now upsetting the world geopolitical stage, where he seems to be acting alone, without consulting with his allies or even informing them of his decisions.
Athens is right to be worried. Given the dangers that lurk – from a confrontation with Turkey over Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone or the Aegean, to a deliberate increase in migration flows from Turkey to the Greek islands – drawing up contingency plans is that much harder when you don’t know how the most important political economic and military player in this complex regional game will act.