Why Trump did not give what Erdoğan wanted in Libya
When it was announced that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had a phone call with Donald Trump on Thursday, the first question that came to the minds of many observers was what gift the U.S. president had given his Turkish friend this time.
But in the hours after the call, the White House announced that Trump had warned Erdoğan about Libya and said: “foreign interference is complicating the situation.”
Trump's warning came just hours after the Turkish parliament approved a bill allowing Erdoğan to send troops to Libya.
This comes from a president who has blocked the implementation of measures against Turkey under the “Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA) for its purchase of Russian S-400 missiles and another sanction package passed by the Senate. Trump also repeatedly blocked Senate debate on resolutions recognising the Armenian genocide. Above all, Trump gave a green light to Turkey's October offensive in northern Syria despite strong objections from all U.S. institutions.
But there is some evidence of why Trump's warned Erdoğan over Libya – the most important was hidden in the readout of another phone call Dec 26, exactly a week before, this time between Trump and one of his favourite foreign leaders, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. The White House said the two leaders agreed that they rejected “foreign exploitation” in Libya. On the Jan. 2 readout of the Trump-Erdoğan phone call, the words “foreign exploitation” turned into "foreign intervention".
In Libya, Trump has clearly shown he sides with Sisi, a man the U.S. president has referred to as his "favourite dictator". It is hard to overstate the differences between Erdoğan and Sisi. Erdoğan backed the Egyptian president’s Muslim Brotherhood predecessor whom Sisi overthrew in a 2013 coup and Turkey and Libya sit on exactly the opposite sides of the Libya crisis.
Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been working together on Syria since mid-2016 and both wanted the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeast Syria. Trump removed his troops from the region, despite objections from the Pentagon and Congress, fulfilling the desire of his two beloved leaders.
But like Sisi, Putin is against Erdoğan in Libya. Putin's support for General Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are besieging Tripoli, was probably another factor that set Trump against Erdoğan.
Trump may have just showed the limits of his love for the Turkish president. Apparently Erdoğan is a lower-tier friend compared to Putin and Sisi.
If Turkish soldiers are going to be deployed in Libya, the stakes are high – it is a dangerous and lonely gamble that could result in the loss of young Turkish soldiers in the remote deserts of Libya.