Mark Esperanto? Trump misnames his Defence Secretary in a tweet

United States President Donald Trump's Defence Secretary is actually named Mark Esper.
United States President Donald Trump's Defence Secretary is actually named Mark Esper.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - United States President Donald Trump shared an update from his Defence Secretary that outlined "minor skirmishes" between Turkish and Kurdish fighters in northern Syria as US troops make their way out of the area. It might have passed by with little notice in the rushing current of Mr Trump's Twitter stream, but for one thing.

"Mark Esperanto, Secretary of Defence, 'The ceasefire is holding up very nicely. There are some minor skirmishes that have ended quickly,'" Mr Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday (Oct 20). "'New areas being resettled with the Kurds.' USA soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zones. We have secured the Oil. Bringing soldiers home!"

Even for Mr Trump, who often lards his online missives with typos, caps-lock abuses, occasional gibberish and errant exclamation points, Sunday's missive contained an outsize number of errors.

The first and most glaring: The President's Defence Secretary is actually named Mark Esper.

Questions arose. Was it a typo? How could Mr Trump's iPhone even make the jump from "Esper" to "Esperanto" if it was an auto-correct situation? It was a mystery that several White House officials could not solve when asked by a reporter on Sunday.

The larger problem, of course, is that Mr Trump made a series of false or unsupported statements about a chaotic situation that has unfolded since he stood by as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey advanced his forces into the area.

In recent days, US Vice-President Mike Pence travelled to Turkey to negotiate a brief ceasefire - a nominal sacrifice from Mr Erdogan that the White House has tried to frame as a win.

The quote Mr Trump attributed to Mr Esper could have come from a private conversation between them. But it appeared that it might have been a recounting - if not an entirely faithful one - of public comments made by Mr Esper, who made an unannounced visit to meet US troops in Afghanistan this weekend and delivered his own assessment of what was happening in Syria.

"I think overall the ceasefire generally seems to be holding," Mr Esper said, according to a Reuters correspondent travelling with him. "We see a stabilisation of the lines, if you will, on the ground and we do get reports of intermittent fires, this and that, that doesn't surprise me necessarily."

 
 
 

At the end of the tweet, Mr Trump added two confusing elements of his own. The first was that the US had "secured the Oil", a claim he has repeatedly made in recent days without any explanation.

The White House did not clarify what he meant by those remarks and Mr Trump has ignored the question when asked about it by reporters. Last year, there were about 2.5 billion barrels of oil in the fields in northern Syria, according to industry estimates.

The President also said the US was "bringing soldiers home", which is also not correct, at least not in the short term: Mr Esper has confirmed that the troops leaving Syria are heading to Iraq to continue operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group.

Separately, the Trump administration said this month that it would be committing additional troops to Saudi Arabia, a decision the President has said was made because the Saudis agreed to pay for the operation.

"A very rich country," Mr Trump said during a news conference with the Italian president last week. "They should be paying. And so should many other countries be paying if they want this kind of protection."

Hours after the original tweet was posted to the presidential account, the White House tried again, spelling Mr Esper's name correctly.

Most of the other questionable assertions, however, remained.