President Trump on Wednesday delivered a parting snub to one of his biggest congressional critics, as even his Republican allies laid into administration officials for the White House’s surprise announcement that U.S. troops would be withdrawing from Syria because, as the president put it on Twitter, Islamic State forces there had been “defeated.”
“It’s obviously a political decision,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters, after going to the White House for a previously scheduled meeting with Trump where he planned to ask him about the Syria decision. Instead, while he was waiting, Trump canceled on him without explanation.
Corker and Trump have perennially feuded over matters of policy and Trump’s habit of dressing down his opponents. Their public sparring came to a head last year, when in advance of pulling out of the Iran deal, Trump launched a Twitter tirade against Corker, jeering him for planning his retirement, prompting the senator to suggest that Trump’s White House had turned into “an adult day care center.”
But on Wednesday, Corker was one of several lawmakers to express shock that Trump would “wake up and make this kind of decision” to pull out of Syria “with this little communication, with this little preparation.”
“My understanding is we are beginning to move out right now . . . entirely,” he said.
The president’s tweet prompted an immediate backlash from lawmakers, who were caught off guard by the news and disagreed with the entire premise of Trump’s argument. Several lawmakers — including some Republicans who are close to the president — warned that the decision would have severe repercussions.
“This is chaos. I can only imagine how it’s playing in Syria,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump confidant on some matters but a critic of the president on foreign policy. “I have the same feeling about this as I did in Iraq: Over time, this is not going to play well.”
The GOP excoriated President Barack Obama for his decision to pull troops out of Iraq, creating a vacuum lawmakers argued led to the rise of Islamic State. Several senators warned that the Trump administration risked making a similar mistake with the president’s Syria decision, as the Islamic State was not fully defeated, despite the president’s tweet.
A general sense of confusion about just what Trump’s order entailed and how it would be carried out helped fuel the sense of panic on Capitol Hill. Graham went to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for answers on just what Trump’s decision meant, later telling reporters that he might introduce a resolution condemning the decision. Meanwhile, over a lunch on Capitol Hill, other GOP senators excoriated Vice President Pence for supporting Trump’s move.
“There was a great deal of concern expressed . . . what is going to happen to the Kurds, who have fought by our side and helped defeat ISIS and probably need our protection?” said Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). “I asked the vice president, ‘Who are going to be the members of the coalition to prevent ISIS from reconstituting and keep Iran from completely taking over, Iran and Russia, from completely taking over Syria?’ ”
They did not receive satisfactory answers.
“The Russians already sent out a statement saying it was great. The Iranians think it’s great; the Syrians think it’s great,” Corker said late Wednesday afternoon, wondering aloud whether Trump’s decision had been prompted by a recent conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “I don’t think you’ve probably seen many statements from our friends and allies that think this is great.”
But there was a general sense of acknowledgment that no matter how mistaken lawmakers were sure Trump might be, he was still the commander in chief — and there was little they could do to stop him.
“Recent history is wrought with the kind of outcomes that happen when you just precipitously wake up one day and decide you’re going to do something,” Corker said. But, he added, “I don’t know that there’s any way to reverse it.”
Trump also seemed not to be dissuaded by the criticism. On Wednesday evening, he tweeted a video of himself, with the message: “After historic victories against ISIS, it’s time to bring our great young people home!”