Washington Rolls Out the Unwelcome Mat for Turkish President
Lawmakers are still fuming over Erdogan’s incursion into northeastern Syria.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief. I’m Robbie Gramer, the diplomatic reporter at FP making my Security Brief debut, taking over from Elias Groll.
What’s on tap today: Erdogan will visit Washington amid rising tensions in Syria, new developments in the impeachment probe leave U.S. diplomats fuming, and Macron bashes NATO ahead of a major meeting of alliance leaders.
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Icy Reception Expected for Erdogan in DC
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is jetting to Washington next week for an Oval Office meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump to talk about the future of Syria. If Trump plans to give the Turkish president a warm welcome, Erdogan can’t expect the same from the rest of Washington. Congress is still seething over Erdogan’s invasion of northeastern Syria, which upset a tenuous peace and put at risk the United States’ strongest allies in the fight against the Islamic State, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
More than one lawmaker has called on Trump to uninvite Erdogan, and some are pushing to slap more sanctions on Turkey if it continues targeting the Kurdish forces, who Ankara views as a terrorist threat. Meanwhile, prompted by congressional concern, the administration is investigating “credible” reports that Turkey misused U.S.-supplied weapons in the Syria operation.
Erdogan almost canceled. Erdogan had threatened to call the visit off after the U.S. House of Representatives last week voted to formally recognize the Armenian genocide over a century ago. He backed off that plan after a call with Trump last night that appeared to patch things up with the White House, at least temporarily.
Top U.S. envoy heads to Ankara. Ahead of Erdogan’s visit, the U.S. special envoy to Syria James Jeffrey will travel to Turkey this week to hash out a path forward in Syria. Wondering how U.S.-Turkish relations took such a nosedive? Foreign Policy has you covered with a deep-dive into how decades of disagreement paved the way for the dismal ties we see today.
What We’re Watching
Anger at Pompeo as impeachment saga drags on. Hundreds of pages of transcripts in the U.S. House impeachment probe this week depict a chaotic policymaking process where Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was freelancing foreign policy for personal reasons and diplomats sounded alarm bells over Trump’s push to withhold military aid from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. The next phase of the impeachment inquiry is about to begin, as Democrats have announced public hearings beginning next week.
Meanwhile in Foggy Bottom, diplomats are none too pleased with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who they feel isn’t doing enough to defend career diplomats amid the inquiry. There’s another practical hurdle for the diplomats called to testify: Lawyers are expensive. Former diplomats are trying to help out their colleagues subpoenaed to testify, who are on their own when it comes to finding a lawyer to represent them. Some former diplomats have even set up an online fundraiser to help with the steep legal fees.
A ‘braindead’ NATO? French President Emmanuel Macron lobbed a diplomatic bombshell into the world of NATO, questioning the United States’ commitment to the alliance and urging Europe to “wake up” to a new reality. In a provocative interview with the Economist Macron said Europe is “experiencing the brain-death of NATO” and questioned the effectiveness of so-called Article 5 commitments—the bedrock of NATO’s collective deterrence that states if one NATO member is attacked, all will come to its aid.
The interview is bound to ruffle some feathers in Brussels and Washington. It comes a month before the 29 leaders of NATO meet for a big summit in London. Until now many were expecting an uneventful summit, at least by Trump era standards.
A glimmer of hope for Yemen? The Saudi-backed Yemeni government signed an agreement with UAE-backed separatists on Tuesday, ending a power struggle that had undermined the coalition’s fight against the Houthi rebels. The agreement will give cabinet representation to northerners and southerners equally, and all separatist armed forces will be placed under government control. The agreement, if implemented, patches over a significant fault-line in Yemen, allowing the coalition to turn its attention back towards the Houthis. The war in Yemen has fueled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with millions at risk of starvation.
Sanctioned billionaire recruits Trump allies. A controversial Israeli billionaire placed under U.S. sanctions for his alleged role in looting central Africa has recruited some new friends in high places. CNBC reported that defense attorney Alan Dershowitz and former FBI director Louis Freeh registered to lobby the U.S. government on behalf of sraeli billionaire Dan Gertler, who has amassed a fortune from oil and mining deals in the DRC, considered one of Africa’s poorest and most corrupt countries. Gertler was put under sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2017 and 2018 after he clinched “opaque and corrupt mining and oil deals.” Gertler denies any wrongdoing.
Brexit fallout. The long slog of Brexit continues to fuel concerns over simmering tensions in Northern Ireland. A new report released this week by a commission monitoring paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland warned that the danger to peace in Northern Ireland “is not that Brexit itself could be the direct cause of a renewal of violence, but rather that it has the potential to add fuel to the fire of continued paramilitarism.” The report was released against the backdrop of widespread opposition to U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, with some threatening “a war of attrition” to ensure it is not implemented.
Movers and Shakers
U.N. aid chief quits: Pierre Krähenbühl, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, resigned Wednesday, following a pair of internal U.N. inquiries into alleged management failings under his watch. It was a major blow to an agency that serves more than 5 million refugees and is striving to recover from the loss of funding from the United States and mounting criticism from the White House and Israel. Read the full story here.
Leadership shake up at State. Trump last week nominated Steve Biegun, his North Korea special envoy, to be the new deputy secretary of state. He would replace Pompeo’s current deputy, John Sullivan, who was tapped to be new U.S. ambassador to Russia. Congressional aides tell Foreign Policy they expect Biegun’s Senate confirmation hearing to be scheduled in the next two weeks. Despite heat from Democrats over how State’s senior leadership is handling the impeachment probe, both are expected to have enough votes in the Senate to be confirmed, Congressional aides say.
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Quote of the Week
“This guy is—appears to be—a nobody. Nobody knows his background … What little we know about him, we’re not impressed. And the other thing is if he’s in Iraq or Syria, we don’t think he’s too long for the world anyway.”
—A senior State Department official, briefing a small group of reporters shares his thoughts on the newly announced leader of ISIS after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died in a U.S. special forces raid.
Odds and Ends
Out of this world. One Pennsylvania voter redefined what it means to cast an absentee ballot in one of the state elections held this week. Andrew Morgan, a resident of Pennsylvania’s Lawrence County, cast his ballot in local elections from space. Morgan is a NASA astronaut currently onboard the International Space Station.
Dan Haverty contributed to this report.
Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer