President Trump faced bipartisan criticism Sunday for his decision to order a withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern Syria, with one congressional Republican denouncing the move as “weak” and a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman warning that it will “diminish the character of our great nation.”
The developments came on the same day that Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper announced the planned withdrawal of virtually all U.S. forces from northern Syria in the face of a Turkish military offensive targeting Kurdish fighters in the region.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Air Force veteran who was a pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan, was among the most vocal members of the president’s party to condemn the move.
In an appearance on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” Kinzinger pushed back against the argument — made by Trump and some of his allies, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — that the withdrawal is a step toward removing the United States from “endless wars.”
“You hear the president and people like Rand Paul talk about endless wars all the time, and it’s kitschy. But actually, we were preventing an endless war,” Kinzinger said. He added that “for me — as a guy that served in the military and really got into politics because I believe in the role America plays — to see this yet again, you know, leaving an ally behind ... is disheartening, depressing.”
“We were preventing an endless war,” @RepKinzinger tells @margbrennan of U.S. troop presence in Syria. Says Trump's retreat is "weak." pic.twitter.com/ZpF3eFiXjl— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) October 13, 2019
Kinzinger said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should “absolutely not” be allowed to come to the White House as planned next month. And he argued that Trump’s decision puts U.S. national security at risk because “now we have another group that now believes they can’t rely on the United States.”
“The Kurds found out on Twitter, for goodness’ sake,” he said. “We have left them to the wolves. And the message this is sending to our allies around the world, I think, is really going to be bad.”
Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until his retirement in January, also had sharp criticism for Trump’s move — although he did not mention the president by name.
“Recent decisions by the administration regarding Syria are a strategic error and further diminish the character of our great nation,” Corker said in a tweet.
Other Republicans took a more neutral tone.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who had previously called Trump’s decision on Syria “the biggest blunder of his presidency,” praised the president Sunday for offering his support for sanctions on Turkey.
“Good decision by President @realDonaldTrump to work with Congress to impose crippling sanctions against Turkeys outrageous aggression/war crimes in Syria,” Graham tweeted, adding that “Turkey is NOT acting as a good NATO ally.”
Earlier Sunday, Trump had tweeted that he was dealing with Graham “and many members of Congress, including Democrats, about imposing powerful Sanctions on Turkey.”
“Treasury is ready to go, additional legislation may be sought,” Trump tweeted. “There is great consensus on this. Turkey has asked that it not be done. Stay tuned!”
Dealing with @LindseyGrahamSC and many members of Congress, including Democrats, about imposing powerful Sanctions on Turkey. Treasury is ready to go, additional legislation may be sought. There is great consensus on this. Turkey has asked that it not be done. Stay tuned!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2019
Former defense secretary Jim Mattis declined to directly criticize Trump during an appearance on NBC News’s “Meet the Press,” saying that whether America is safer today because of the president’s decision is “a complex question.”
“I would say, America’s always safer when it builds the trust and a sense of reliability among our allies that we’re reliable,” said Mattis, who resigned last year after clashing with Trump.
Only two Republicans on the Sunday morning news shows — Paul and Sen. Kevin Cramer (N.D.) — defended Trump’s move.
On “Meet the Press,” Paul echoed Esper’s argument, claiming that Turkey “was coming in one way or another.” In a reference of Trump’s initial troop decision, he added that the president “was right in moving 50 soldiers out of the way of an onslaught of tens of thousands of Turkish troops.”
“Am I going to send the sons and daughters of American mothers and fathers, am I going to send them there to die to try to figure out how the Kurd and the Turks can get along?” Paul asked. “And I don’t see that in our national interest. And we should vote on it. We should vote on it in Congress and declare war, if that’s what people want.”
Paul did, however, criticize Trump’s decision last week to send an additional 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia.
“In fact, I would withhold troops and arms from the Saudis until we see better behavior,” Paul said, adding that “it’s inconsistent to say we’re not going to be there for endless, senseless wars and then to have them in Saudi Arabia.”
Cramer said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that while he wishes the situation had been different, “I’m not sure the president had a lot of choices.”
“I think the logical question is, were we prepared to stay there and fight the Turks, given the fact that the Turks seem to be committed to coming across the border and establishing this militarized zone, with or without our staying there? ... Clearly, the Turks are not the type of ally that the Kurds are, but they are a NATO country, as you have pointed out, and it’s never quite as simple as just a binary choice,” he said.
Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), who left the Republican Party earlier this year and has mulled a presidential run, criticized Trump’s “endless wars” defense, calling it “just cover for his having facilitated a disaster.”
“President Trump long ago could (and should) have withdrawn from Syria and worked to keep out Turkey,” Amash tweeted Sunday afternoon. “Instead, he pulled back a few troops (no withdrawal) and green lighted Turkey’s attack.”
At a news conference in New York City on Sunday afternoon, Schumer announced that lawmakers in both chambers will be putting forward a joint resolution that “urges the president to undo his decision to do everything he can to protect the Kurds, to do everything that we must do to prevent ISIS terrorists from escaping, and make sure that Turkey respects existing agreements related to Syria and with the United States.” The Islamic State is also known as ISIS/
Schumer also invoked the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, noting that “we New Yorkers, we’re the number one target for terrorists in America.”
“We all learned from 9/11 that terrorism can begin in a tiny cell as far as 7,000 miles away and then metastasize into a domestic attack,” he said. “We’ve worked so hard and so long to prevent it from happening again. We have sacrificed blood and dollars to make it not happen. And in one fell swoop, the president undoes too much of what has been accomplished.”
Several Democrats also took to the morning news shows to denounce Trump’s decision.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) said on “Meet the Press” that lawmakers will consider two bills this week that would condemn Trump’s policy toward the Kurds and sanction Turkey “and all the people involved with what’s going on.”
“I can think of nothing more disgusting, in all the years I’ve been in Congress, than what this president is allowing to happen with the Kurds,” Engel said.
Asked whether Turkey should be kicked out of NATO, Engel replied that “it’s something that needs to be considered.”
“I mean, how do you have a NATO ally who’s in cahoots with the Russians, when the Russians are the adversaries of NATO? ... Erdogan’s a bad guy. And I’m disgusted that the American president would feel comfortable with someone like Erdogan,” he said.
On “Face the Nation,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) called Trump’s decision “a complete capitulation” to Erdogan and “an unmitigated disaster” that will result in the resurgence of the Islamic State.
And on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) called the situation on the ground in northern Syria “absolutely sickening” and said it was “shameful” that Trump “allowed Turkey to begin killing the Syrian Kurds.”
“That’s why you have this big, bipartisan uproar,” Van Hollen said. “You have ISIS right now being the big winner, because the Syrian Kurds were our most effective partner in going after ISIS. Now, they’re going to have a comeback.”
Van Hollen also accused the president of not moving more quickly to sanction Turkey.
“For God’s sakes, what are they waiting for, right?” he said. “People are being killed right now.”