By any measure, Donald Trump’s October 9 letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was unusual. Others had a different characterization of it.
“Insane,” said former GOP Rep. Justin Amash.
“Dear Mr. President,” the Oct. 9 letter began, “Let’s work out a good deal! You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will.”
Trump then referred to economic sanctions his administration used on the country to push for the release of an American pastor who’d been locked up in Turkey, calling it “a little sample” of what could be in store.
“I have worked hard to solve some of your problems. Don’t let the world down. You can make a great deal,” Trump wrote, asserting that the commander of the Kurdish forces is “willing to negotiate with you.”
“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way,” Trump wrote to Erdogan. “It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”
It’s rare for a president to craft a personal communication to another leader without it going through layers of bureaucracy and advisers. Drafts, redrafts, rewrites — everybody wants to put their stamp on such a document.
There’s a reason for the layers of experts pouring over a letter, as Erdogan showed after getting the letter.
In response, Turkish presidential sources told BBC Turkish: “President Erdogan received the letter, thoroughly rejected it and put it in the bin.”
The Beeb’s Jeremy Bowen thinks Erdogan’s response exonerates Trump.
Donald Trump’s mixture of threats and locker-room banter infuriated Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His staff told the BBC that he threw the letter into the bin and launched the Syrian operation the same day. That could be proof there was no Trumpian green light.
The Russians, who apparently got a copy of the letter somehow, are perplexed by it.
“You don’t often encounter such language in correspondence between heads of state. It’s a highly unusual letter,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.
The letter’s casual tone and open threats shouldn’t surprise anyone. This is Trump’s modus operendi — upending the status quo, going off script, playing the opposite of true to form. For domestic politics, it works fairly well.
But in the international arena, it’s a truly dangerous game. Trump may not have directly enabled Erdogan’s thrust into Syria, but the absolute worst way to persuade him not to was to, in essence, challenge his manhood. Explicit threats may make Trump’s domestic base feel emotionally satisfied, but it’s poison to another national leader. These aren’t children that Trump is lecturing about not washing behind their ears. These are grown men, fully as powerful and accomplished as Trump. Trump’s invitation to Erdogan to defy him was enthusiastically embraced.
Trump should be sobered by the reaction he got to this letter, but he won’t be.