Trump and Erdogan’s Blind Spot

Black Sea falls by the wayside in impeachment controversy.
Presidents Donald J. Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a plateful of thorny issues on their agenda when they met in the White House this week.

However, none of the issues, including Turkey’s recent invasion of northern Syria, its acquisition of a Russian anti-missile system and its close ties to Russia and Iran, appear to have been resolved during the meeting between the two men in which five Republican senators critical of Turkey participated.

The failure to narrow differences didn’t stop Mr. Trump from declaring that “we’ve been friends for a long time, almost from day-one. We understand each other’s country. We understand where we are coming from.”

This is all the more remarkable as the entire world well remembers the – even for Mr. Trump – intemperate outbursts against Turkey’s president in recent months.

From Trump’s personal (always personal) perspective, this seems to have all the hallmarks of a true love-hate relationship.

Silence on the Black Sea

Trump’s display of empathy for an illiberal leader aside, what was also remarkable about the meeting is what was not on the two men’s agenda: Security in the Black Sea.

That is all the more remarkable as it lies at the crossroads of Russia, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and NATO member Turkey.

The Black Sea is a flashpoint in multiple disputes involving Russia. Russia seeks to stretch its power far beyond the country’s internationally recognized borders and thus sees its interventions in Black Sea littoral states like Ukraine and Georgia as an effort to reestablish its former grandeur and thus as fully justified.

For that reason, the Black Sea has long figured prominently among many Washington-based think tanks on the conservative end of the political spectrum. Viewed in that context, the complete silence on this issue by the leader of the current Republican administration is truly remarkable.

Toothless Trump

The utter passivity of the Trump administration was magnified by the disclosure days earlier that Mr. Trump had cancelled a planned U.S. freedom of navigation naval mission in the Black Sea after CNN had portrayed it as American pushback in the region.

The disclosure came in a transcript of closed-door testimony in the U.S. House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry of Mr. Trump’s policy towards Ukraine by Christopher Anderson, a former advisor to Kurt Volker, the U.S. special representative to Ukraine until he resigned in September.

Mr. Anderson testified that Mr. Trump phoned his then national security advisor, John Bolton, at home to complain about the CNN story. He said the story prompted the president to cancel the routine operation of which Turkey had already been notified.

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