Is it a ceasefire or just a pause? Vice President Mike Pence called the deal he helped negotiate with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a ceasefire that halts Turkey's incursion into northern Syria.   But Turkey insists it's just a pause, a five-day window to let the Kurds leave their safe zone in northern Syria. Mideast observers say the deal appears to give Turkey what it really wanted: to annex a piece of Syria and kick the Kurds out. 

President Trump hailed the agreement as "a great day for civilization." But critics, like GOP US Sen. Mitt Romney, slammed the deal, declaring that Trump’s actions on Syria “will stand as a bloodstain on US history.   Just more play-dough diplomacy from a jerk who couldn’t arbitrate a twiddly-wink game.  It’s a Neville Chamberlain strategy and will fail.


Turkey launched its military offensive into northeastern Syria, hammering Kurdish forces with airstrikes and artillery fire. Reports on the ground paint a chaotic scene, with roads gridlocked with people trying to flee to safety. There are also reports of civilian causalities, as some worry that this could be the start of a “humanitarian catastrophe." 

The Kurdish forces have dropped their counter-ISIS operations to focus on the Turkish offensive, raising fears that all this could lead to a resurgence of ISIS. US officials have also expressed concern that thousands of ISIS fighters may escape from prisons in Syria. Asked about that, President Trump essentially shrugged it off, saying it's not America's problem, since the fighters would be "escaping to Europe." 


By now, the downsides of President Trump’s Syria-withdrawal announcement are well known: He has abandoned US allies, created conditions for ISIS to regrow, and sacrificed US security priorities in favor of Turkey’s. And yet, Paul Pillar writes at LobeLogwrite in The Wall Street Journal, that doesn’t mean America has had any good options or easy answers in Syria; Trump may have made his decision haphazardly—reflecting a broken policy process—but “[e]ven a broken clock is right twice a day.”

There is a kernel of truth to Trump’s claim that America’s Kurdish allies were paid well for their support, Pillar writes, as Kurds had a direct interest in fighting ISIS. Now that ISIS has gone underground, it poses a threat which a foreign military presence might provoke rather than solve, Pillar argues, as combat operations have declined in importance. There are reasons to get out of Syria, and criticism of Trump should be qualified, Pillar writes.

If America is ceding its responsibilities to a wayward Turkey, Michael Doran and Michael A. Reynolds  that Ankara has drifted from its US alliance for legitimate reasons. America chose to work with Kurdish partners in Syria rather than Turkey, for instance, while pursuing a “diffident” Syria strategy as a civil war poured refugees into Turkish territory.


For Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the military push into Syria is about domestic politics, Gönül Tol writes for Foreign Affairs. At the outset of Syria’s war, Erdoğan welcomed refugees and supported Syria’s opposition, out of declared compassion and kinship with fellow Sunnis. As Turkey ended up hosting 3.6 million refugees, that policy began to strain Turkey’s south—and to cost Erdoğan at the ballot box. “Once the self-proclaimed magnanimous patron of all Sunnis, Erdoğan now wants the refugees to go home,” Tol writes. He now hopes to a create a “safe zone” to house them along the border, to be filled with Turkish-built housing, including soccer fields—an expensive project that would nonetheless solve “a major domestic headache.” As Erdoğan’s military advances on Kurdish-led forces, he sees his grip on power in the balance—meaning criticism from US senators isn’t likely to change his mind.

With the US pulling back, Bilal Baloch writes for Foreign Policy that Syria’s power balance will be reshuffled. Turkey, Iran, and Russia had worked together toward settling the civil war, Baloch writes, but deeper divisions are likely to emerge between them, as they jockey for power. Ultimately, the war will only drag on longer as a result, he concludes.