As even Republican lawmakers and foreign policy experts reel over Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to abandon Kurdish allies to an assault from Turkey in Syria, the president himself apparently has an explanation: “I have a little conflict of interest” concerning Turkey.
Trump made the comment in a Breitbart News interview in December 2015 during his presidential campaign when asked how he would handle Turkey and Syria.
“I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul,” Trump boasted in response. “It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers — two towers, instead of one, not the usual one; it’s two. And I’ve gotten to know Turkey very well. They’re amazing people, they’re incredible people. They have a strong leader.”
He said then that the situation was “complicated,” adding, “I thrive on complicated.” Trump did not reveal what he would do in the region if he were to become commander in chief.
Trump still profits from Trump Towers in Istanbul, and the “strong leader” then was the same as now: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Though his continuing business interest in Istanbul is widely known, his own admission that it represents a conflict of interest is startling. Critics have long argued that Trump, as presidents traditionally do, should divest from his businesses to avoid conflicts of interest that threaten to put his personal benefit ahead of the nation’s.
In a late Sunday phone call with Erdogan, Trump suddenly agreed to let Turkey occupy a strip of northern Syria, currently controlled by ethnic Kurds who have been America’s most effective allies in battling the so-called Islamic State. Now supporters fear a U.S.-enabled slaughter of the Kurds, who have a centuries-long dispute with Turkey over self-rule.
“Everyone was absolutely flabbergasted by this,” retired Adm. James Stavridis said Monday on MSNBC, referring to the Pentagon perspective on Trump’s action. “Nobody saw it coming, and that is a real problem when you’re trying to conduct not only foreign policy ... but also military operations. That kind of whipsawing effect is extremely detrimental, not only in this tactical situation but strategically, as our planners try and prepare in other theaters, from North Korea to Afghanistan.” (See the video above at 9:18.)
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Monday that Trump’s decision had nothing to do with the Trump Towers Istanbul complex.
Check out Trump’s Breitbart interview about his “conflict of interest” below. The section on Turkey begins at the start.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Trump owns Trump Towers in Istanbul. Rather, according to The New York Times, he licensed his name to the developers for a fee.