Even by Donald Trump's basement-level standards, there's something bizarre about the president's behavior in deciding to allow a Turkish invasion of Syria aimed at pushing the Kurdish population out of the area — a move that is, for all intents and purposes, an act of ethnic cleansing. Less than two weeks ago, Trump, apparently spontaneously, acceded to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's request that the U.S. pull a small number of troops out of the area to clear the way for what swiftly turned into a slaughter. Since then, Trump's attempts to justify this betrayal — not just of the Kurds, but of basic human decency — have been alarmingly erratic, well beyond his existing baseline of constant, impulsive dramatics.
Trump has veered between trying to deny responsibility for giving leeway to Erdoğan, claiming some higher motivation and implying that the Kurds had it coming anyway. But this chaos-monkey act appears to have a specific goal, which is to scare off congressional Democrats who might want to take a closer look at exactly why Trump — a man who only ever acts out of self-interest — prioritized Erdoğan's genocidal urges over the opinion of his own advisers and Republican colleagues, especially when Trump needs their support over the impeachment inquiry.
Trump's desperation to keep anyone from looking too closely here is all the more reason to do so. In fact, Democrats need to seriously consider expanding the impeachment inquiry to look at why, exactly, Trump is so eager to please Erdoğan, even above his own party. It's certainly not because of some principled disagreement over the U.S. presence in Syria, since Trump has no principles outside of his personal self-interest. So the question is, what is Trump getting out of this, and have any laws been broken in selling out American interests to Turkey?
Democrats don't even really need to expand the scope of the basic impeachment focus to include this Turkey/Syria situation. After all, the existing impeachment inquiry is about Trump illegally using foreign policy for personal gain at the expense of American interests in Ukraine. The only question now is how many other foreign policy mishaps are guided by the same Trumpian self-interest, what crimes he's committing to achieve self-interest, and how many lives are being lost because of it.
Trump's wild, defensive behavior around this situation is remarkably reminiscent of every other time he has lashed out hysterically because he has a guilty conscience and is afraid of being caught doing something corrupt or illegal. On Wednesday, Trump spent the day having what Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi aptly called a "meltdown," declaring to reporters that the Kurds whose slaughter he just greenlit are "no angels," echoing Erdoğan's false claims that Kurdish fighters are "terrorists," and accusing Democrats, in a meeting with members of Congress, of only caring about Kurds because they're communists.
But Trump is never consistent, and along with his attempts to paint the Turkish invasion as no big deal, or to imply that the Kurds deserve it, Trump also made a ham-fisted and unconvincing move to claim that he tried to stop Erdoğan. He distributed copies of a letter he wrote to Erdoğan on Oct. 9, three days after the phone call when he basically gave his blessing to this invasion, in which he made embarrassingly childish threats, calling on the Turkish president "to make a good deal" and writing, "I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will."
The efforts to get this letter not just in front of Congress but in front of the public appear to be a naked and pathetic attempt to portray Trump as somehow opposed to an invasion that he specifically he agreed to permit. Odds are that thoroughly ridiculous letter was never really intended to intimidate Erdoğan, so but rather to cover Trump's derrière by creating a paper trail to prop up the preposterous claim that he wasn't actually on board with this invasion. Erdoğan certainly took this missive in the spirit that it was intended, and reportedly threw it in the trash.
Trump's defensive freakout continued for hours after the meeting with congressional leaders, as he sprayed psychological projection all over Twitter with claims that Pelosi is "a very sick person" who had "a total meltdown." (It's remarkable that he managed to restrain himself from also accusing her of having a bad combover and ugly orange fake tan.)
Why the president of Turkey has more sway over the president of the United States than his own party does is not a minor question. At this point, of course, it's worth noting that Trump has substantial business interests in Turkey, including his Trump Towers in Istanbul and, as Robert Reich pointed out at Newsweek, "[b]usinesses linked to the Turkish government [that] are also major patrons of the Trump Organization." Trump himself bragged in 2015 about having a "conflict of interest" in Turkey due to his "major, major building in Istanbul."
In light of Trump's longstanding habit of projection, it's wise to wonder if the concerns about economic ruin are more about what Turkey can do to him than what he can do to Turkey.
Politically, broadening the scope of impeachment inquiries about Trump's abuse of foreign policy powers beyond Ukraine to Turkey — and potentially to the other two dozen-plus countries where he has conflicts of interest — is a smart move.
Yes, it will slow down the process substantially, which is something many Democrats seem worried about. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are suddenly pushing for an impeachment trial by the end of the year. That's not because McConnell has decided to take Trump's criminal behavior seriously, since he continues to back Trump's claims that the inquiry is somehow unfair.
McConnell doesn't do anything that isn't for Republican political advantage. If he wants a quick process, presumably to get the whole thing out of the way before we hit election season, then the smart move is to slow things down. Expanding the scope to include Turkey — and other conflicts of interest that might be shaping Trump's entirely self-interested approach to foreign policy — is one sure way to do that.
And all this can happen without sacrificing the tidy narrative Democrats crave around impeachment. If anything, it will make it simpler, by making the point that Trump is selling out American interests for personal gain around the globe. With the Ukraine scandal already growing more complex, due to the number of sleazy characters barnacled onto it, a more global scope might actually be easier to explain than than the increasingly byzantine Ukraine story.
Above all, this is a moral issue. Trump's attempts to wet his own beak in office have implications beyond his personal grossness. His efforts to coerce Ukrainian leaders into falsifying evidence against former Vice President Joe Biden was ultimately about trying to cheat Americans (yet again) out of a fair election. Now his shady dealings in Turkey might literally be getting people killed. The full truth needs to be known as a matter of justice. The impeachment inquiry, which has already been more successful at shaking out information from this obstructionist president than any previous methods, is the tool to use for this job.