The Slatest

Trump Warns Turkey’s Erdogan Not to “Be a Tough Guy” in Bizarre Letter

President Donald Trump speaks at the White House.
President Donald Trump speaks during a joint news conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the White House on October 16, 2019.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Donald Trump asked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “work out a good deal” over the country’s planned attacks against Kurdish forces and warned him not to “be a tough guy” in a strange letter sent last week.

The letter, which was first reported by the Fox Business Network and confirmed by the White House, was handed out at a Congressional meeting Wednesday in an apparent attempt to highlight the president’s toughness in handling Erdogan, one source told an Associated Press reporter.

“Dear Mr. President,” Trump wrote in the letter. “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.”

The letter was dated Oct. 9, three days after Trump told Erdogan he would remove U.S. forces from northern Syria—and therefore leave the country’s Kurdish allies vulnerable—and the same day Turkey launched its attack against the Kurds.

In his letter, Trump backed his threat by saying he had “already given you a little sample with respect to Pastor Brunson,” in reference to the sanctions the White House placed on Turkey in an effort to win the release of an American pastor imprisoned there.

He continued: “I have worked hard to solve some of your problems. Don’t let the world down. You can make a great deal.” He suggested the Kurdish forces would make a deal with Erdogan.

He concluded:

History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. 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!

I will call you later. 

Sincerely, Donald Trump

The White House announced on Oct. 6 that Trump had spoken to Erdogan and that Turkey would “soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria.” Meanwhile, “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area,” the statement said.

The move was widely condemned by both Republicans and Democrats, many of whom saw the decision as a betrayal and abandonment of important allies (nearly 11,000 Kurds have died in the conflict) in the fight against ISIS. Some critics are also concerned that the fighting has weakened the security around detention centers holding ISIS prisoners, some of whom have already reportedly escaped.

Trump insisted on Wednesday that he had not given a “green light” to attack Kurdish fighters and civilians, but he also, in that same appearance, insisted the Kurds were “not angels” and that “they’ve got a lot of sand over there…they can play with.” Members of Congress have introduced bipartisan measures to impose sanctions on Turkey, and after the backlash, Trump’s own administration introduced some sanctions against the country.

On Wednesday, Turkey rejected U.S. calls for a cease-fire. At least one expert has argued that the release of Trump’s letter likely made Erdogan, who would be wary of looking like he was caving to Trump, less likely to agree to a cease-fire.