In a report that essentially confirms what Secretary Mattis only insinuated in his letter of resignation, the Associated Press offered an account sourced from anonymous US and Turkish officials that appears to confirm all of President Trump’s hawkish critics’ worst fears about his landmark decision to withdraw US forces from Syria: Namely, that it was made seemingly on a whim, without consulting his national security team, during a phone call with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The play-by-play of the call, which was strenuously denied by White House officials, who implied that the account had been planted by Turkish agents who were seeking to undermine the president (though they neglected to specify which details in the account were untrue).
It began by explaining how Trump’s aides had prepared detailed talking points for a Dec. 14 call with Erdogan. But Trump abandoned them shortly after it began after apparently being convinced by Erdogan’s argument that ISIS had effectively been defeated, given that the once-powerful faction now controls less than 1% of its former territory.
The call had been set up by the NSC after Erdogan threatened to attack US-backed Kurdish troops in Northern Syria whom the Turkish leader accused of supporting the Kurdish independence movement in Turkey.
Trump’s advisors had coached him to offer Erdogan a small concession, like holding territory on the Turkish-Syrian border. But after the call began, Erdogan put Trump on the defensive.
“The talking points were very firm,” said one of the officials, explaining that Mr Trump was advised to clearly oppose a Turkish incursion into northern Syria and suggest the US and Turkey work together to address security concerns.
“Everybody said push back and try to offer (Turkey) something that’s a small win, possibly holding territory on the border, something like that.”
Mr Erdogan, though, quickly put Mr Trump on the defensive, reminding him that he had repeatedly said the only reason for US troops to be in Syria was to defeat IS and that the group had been 99% defeated.
“Why are you still there?” the second official said Mr Erdogan asked Mr Trump, telling him that the Turks could deal with the remaining IS militants.