President Donald Trump has fuelled controversy over Syria this week at a time when the pre-trial investigation was gaining momentum, in an apparent attempt to distract attention from an issue that threatens his office and in which he is losing allies.
Wednesday’s publication of a letter last week in which Trump called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan not to be a “fool” left many people speechless because he arrived shortly before Vice President Mike Pence landed in Turkey to negotiate a truce in that country’s offensive in Syria.
But Trump did not seem concerned that his letter would undermine his vice president’s efforts in Ankara, and he made sure to keep the public’s attention on that crisis with a wave of insults to Lower House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after a Syria-centered meeting.
Although his decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria has generated strong criticism from both parties and is considered by some to be the most serious foreign policy error of his presidency, Trump is aware that this scandal is unlikely to take its toll at the polls.
“Trump is trying to use Syria as a distraction, because he believes that most of his most loyal voters don’t know much about the issue or don’t care enough to affect their support,” Tammy Vigil, a political communications expert at Boston University, told Efe.
“His voter base is not going to abandon him for that, so he has reason to use it as a shield so he doesn’t really have to deal with impeachment issues,” she added.
While Trump boasted Thursday that his “iron fist” toward Syria had supposedly forced Erdogan to accept a truce, problems related to impeachment were beginning to multiply in the White House.
Trump’s attempts to prohibit his government from cooperating with a democratic investigation he considers “illegal” were met with the closed-door appearance on Thursday of US Ambassador to the European Union (EU) Gordon Sondland.
The official criticized Trump for demanding that his team in charge of Ukraine coordinate with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, the main instigator of the theory that former Vice President Joe Biden committed corruption in that country.
Giuliani misses almost every new revelation, and on Wednesday, as Trump tried to focus attention on his letter to Erdogan, CNN revealed that the FBI is investigating whether foreign intelligence agents may have exploited his lawyer’s financial interests in Ukraine to influence the White House.
“It didn’t work for Trump to publish the letter to Erdogan, and now he’s lurching and can’t find a way to regain control of the news cycle,” another Texas A&M University political communications expert, Jen Mercieca, told Efe.
With headlines made Thursday by Sondland’s revelations and Republican forecasts that there will be a impeachment trial in the Senate before 2020, Trump pulled an ace out of his sleeve and sent his interim chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to unleash a new polemic, this time alien to Syria.
In front of cameras in the White House press room, Mulvaney confirmed that the next G7 leaders’ summit will be held at the Trump golf club in Florida, a decision that triggered a wave of criticism because it will benefit the president’s business fabric.
However, not even that conflict of interest managed to take all the protagonism to the impeachment, because Mulvaney missed a new headline: he assured that Trump retained a package of military aid to Ukraine in part because he wanted them to investigate the alleged corruption of the Democrats in 2016.
After Trump’s legal team complained about this confirmation that the president withheld military aid to Ukraine for partisan reasons, Mulvaney tried to backtrack and stressed that there was “absolutely no quid pro quo” between the two.
But the damage was done, and Trump resorted to a cease-fire in Syria to try to change the subject, both on Twitter and in statements to the press and at a rally in Texas.
As the Democratic investigation progresses, “Trump’s attempts to distract are likely to continue,” according to expert Vigil.
“I wouldn’t rule out that he unleashes more international problems in order to divert the focus of political judgment and to be able to argue that his government should be supported. This will work with some of your voters, but it can also turn against you,” he concluded.