Erdogan: Tough guy, not a fool

Erdogan: Tough guy, not a fool

"Don't be a tough guy," Trump said. "Don't be a fool." Make a deal. Those were his words of wisdom for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an extremely peculiar letter of warning about the consequences of continuing Turkey's invasion of Syria. Well, today the American government's top two Mikes (VP Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo) flew to Ankara to make a deal. And what a deal it was...for Erdogan.


Turkey has agreed to halt military operations for 120 hours in northern Syria. In exchange for that, the US has endorsed Ankara's demands for a Turkish-administered "safe zone" extending 20 miles into Syria and has agreed to oversee the withdrawal from that area of Kurdish militants who are linked to the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long armed conflict against Ankara. If all goes well over those 120 hours – which the US calls a ceasefire but Turkey does not –Washington will also remove the sanctions that it imposed on Ankara after Turkey invaded Syria last week. Trump had initially opened the way for that invasion by pulling back US forces working locally with Kurdish militants to fight ISIS.

First and foremost, this agreement is good for the people living in northern Syria, who in recent days have already suffered hideous violence as Turkish troops and their local Arab proxies advanced. At least 50 civilians have been killed inside Syria and 18 over the border in southern Turkey since the Turkish offensive began.

But it's also an extraordinary win for Erdogan, who has long sought a "safe zone" of this kind for two reasons. First, as a place he can send some of the 3.6 million increasingly unwelcome Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey. And second, as a buffer between powerful Kurdish militants in Syria and their Kurdish separatist groups inside Turkey.

Looking ahead, here are a few questions that remain unanswered.

What happens to the Kurds? Simply put, they lose this land. But more broadly, the US has committed to removing members of the Kurdish militant group YPG from the area. Where will they go? And under what terms? How will the US distinguish between Kurdish militants in the area and members of the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) – a group formed in 2015 to help the US in its fight against ISIS. Does the SDF's recent decision to switch allegiance from the US to the regime of Bashar al-Assad and Russia still hold?

What happens to ISIS? One of the fears in recent days was that heightened conflict in the region would enable ISIS fighters held by the Kurds to escape. President Trump has downplayed that risk, telling the press that under the agreement the Kurds will continue to track and fight ISIS "under US supervision." It's not clear what "US supervision" means if the US no longer has a presence in that swath of Syria.

What about Russia? Russian military contractors had already begun to move into areas abandoned by retreating US forces. What's more, Moscow's idea of a Turkish "safe zone" is less than a third as deep as what the two Mikes have agreed to in Ankara.

What concessions did the US get from Turkey? Pence repeatedly evaded this $10 million question at a press conference after the meeting with Turkey, saying "you'll see from the agreement."

For now, we'll have to wait and see. But at first gloss, Erdogan has achieved virtually all of his goals in northern Syria at the low low price of a week's unpleasantness with Trump.

He got to be a tough guy, and, in the end, he was certainly no fool.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

More Show less

Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

More Show less

In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

More Show less

When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

More Show less

YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

More Show less

Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal