Trump Finding Himself Stuck between Congress, the Pentagon, and Turkey’s S-400 Deal with Russia
July 17, 2019 (EIRNS)—During a cabinet meeting at the White House yesterday, President Donald Trump complained about the circumstances he finds himself in with Turkey taking delivery of components of the Russian S-400 air defense system that it has purchased and the sanctions he is now required, by law, to impose on Ankara for it. “I’ve had a very good relationship [with Turkey],” Trump said in response to a reporter’s question, according to the White House transcript. “The Obama administration would not sell them the Patriot missiles. They need the Patriot missiles for defense. They would not sell them, under any circumstance.” He went on to say Turkey tried very hard to buy the Patriots and it wasn’t until Turkey made the decision to go with the S-400 that suddenly “everybody started rushing and saying to Turkey, ‘Okay, we’ll sell you the Patriot missile.’ It was only when they found out they couldn’t get it, then, they say, ‘Let’s go, we’ll sell you the Patriot missile.’ ” Trump noted that Turkey is planning to buy over 100 F-35s but that “because they have a system of missiles that’s made in Russia, they’re now prohibited from buying over a hundred planes.”
“So what happens is we have a situation where Turkey is very good with us,” he said. “Very good. And we are now telling Turkey that, because you have really been forced to buy another missile system, we’re not going to sell you the F-35 fighter jets,” continuing from there to express sympathy for Turkey as he had when he met Erdogan at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan in June.
Secretary of Defense nominee Mark Esper, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, made clear that the policy decision has already been made. He called Turkey’s decision on the S-400 “very disappointing” and said:
“The policy that I’ve communicated to my counterpart... is you can either have the S-400 or the F-35. You cannot have both. Acquisition of the S-400 fundamentally undermines the capabilities of the F-35 and our ability to maintain that overmatch in the skies going forward.”
Then-Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan had already announced, on June 7, the Pentagon plan to unwind Turkey from the F-35 program (Turkey also participates in the production process of the F-35). Esper was merely confirming what Shanahan had already set into motion.
Members of Congress have also made clear that they believe that the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) requires Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey. He can decide what options provided in the law to choose from, but he has to impose sanctions. The law “was tailor-made not to let Turkey off the hook for its purchase of the S-400, and a waiver would be impermissible under current circumstances,” reported Defense News. “Unlike India, Turkey is a NATO ally, the interoperability of our systems is critical, the inability of us to have a F-35 next to an S-400 is crystal clear, and [Turkish officials] were given options,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “In every respect, they turned their backs on us. They had an option and they refused to do so. That’s why there’s not going to be a waiver.”
So, every indication is that Trump feels trapped between the U.S. Congress and the Pentagon—another case of the President unable to break through the containment.