Trump’s Syria Moves Face Heavy Criticism
President Trump's latest Syria move is coming under heavy criticism even from fellow Republicans.
Within hours after the announcement that President Trump had agreed with Turkish President Erdogan to remove American troops from Northern Syria in expectation of a Turkish invasion, Republicans who have typically rushed to the defense of the President were instead coming out to criticize the decision in some of the harshest language we’ve seen from the GOP since the start of the Trump Presidency:
President Trump faced a swift torrent of Republican criticism Monday as lawmakers rebuked his plan to withdraw troops from northeast Syria, a move Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said would undermine U.S. national security and potentially bolster Islamic State terrorists.
McConnell (R-Ky.), in a rare public split with Trump, said that a supermajority in the Senate disagreed with the president’s abrupt withdrawal announcement, raising the specter of veto-proof action to oppose the decision.
“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime,” McConnell said in a statement Monday. “And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.”
McConnell’s statement, in which he called on Trump to “exercise American leadership” and reconsider his plan to withdraw troops from Syria’s border with Turkey, echoed the comments of other Republicans who condemned the president’s decision Monday. The mounting opposition means that Trump is facing some of the sharpest criticism he has received from his party at the same time that his political survival could be in the hands of Republican senators forming a bulwark against a growing impeachment threat.
Several senators said Monday that Trump’s move would undermine U.S. credibility, because it would mean abandoning U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters ahead of a long-threatened Turkish offensive into northern Syria.
“This betrayal of the Kurds will also severely harm our credibility as an ally the world over,” Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) said in a statement.
“President Trump should rethink this decision immediately.”
Responding to the Republican criticism Monday, Trump said that he had”consulted with everybody” but held back from his usual tactic of attacking any critics, saying that he respectfully disagreed with those opposed to his decision.
“I could name other people who are thrilled,” he told reporters.
While Democrats roundly criticized the troop withdrawal, the outpouring of opposition from the president’s party stood out.
Most Republicans have been reluctant to criticize Trump’s calls for Ukraine and China to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a political opponent, and his son Hunter — acts that have become central to Democrats’ impeachment investigation.
But Trump’s move to draw down troops in Syria, announced Sunday night in a White House statement, opened him up to direct criticism from some of the lawmakers who have tried to defend him in the impeachment inquiry.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who has called impeachment attempts “ridiculous,” blasted Trump’s Syria decision Monday.
“So sad. So dangerous,” he said on Twitter. “President Trump may be tired of fighting radical Islam. They are NOT tired of fighting us.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who defended Trump by saying the president was not being serious when he called on China to investigate Biden, criticized the Syria move.
“If reports about US retreat in #Syria are accurate, the Trump administration has made a grave mistake that will have implications far beyond Syria,” he said on Twitter.
Trump’s decision, which has been widely criticized by national security analysts and cast his entire strategy in the region into doubt, has even faced criticism from corners of the Republican Party that have been the most loyal to him:
Some evangelical Christian leaders aligned with Republicans also condemned the decision, warning that Turkish aggressions in northern Syrian could imperil Christian communities there.
“The president of the United States is in danger of losing the mandate of heaven if he permits this to happen,” Pat Robertson said on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “The 700 Club.”
For his part, the President came to his own defense on Twitter, insisting that he had placed limits on what the Turks could do:
If you’re scratching your head wondering what Trump meant in this word salad, you’re not alone. For one thing, it is unclear exactly what Trump would consider being “off-limits” and it isn’t at all clear that he made any such limits clear to President Erdogan. If he did, he arguably owes it to the Ameican public and to Congress to explain what those limits are and what he would do if the Turks crossed this supposed red line that he drew. In reality, of course, there’s very little that he can do if the Turks use the invasion, which is supposedly for the purpose of establishing a “safe zone” for Syrian refugees as an excuse to go after the Kurdish Syrian Defense Force and/or level punitive strikes at Kurdish civilian areas in the north.
Military action is off the table, of course, because the United States obviously doesn’t have the forces to take such action and because Turkey is a NATO ally and we’re simply not going to take such action against a NATO ally. The same goes for significant economic sanctions, especially since Turkey is the host for one of the most important NATO/American airbases in the region. Instead, the best that could be hoped for is some strong rebuking language but even that is probably too much to hope for with this President.
The criticism that the President faced yesterday in the wake of his decision from his fellow Republicans stands out largely because it is one of the few times in the nearly three years that he’s been President that we’ve seen Republicans criticize a move by the White House and the President. It also stands in marked contrast to their response to the proof that he solicited foreign nations such as Ukraine and China to provide him with damaging information about a political rival. Both of these are serious matters, of course, but the contrast between how the GOP reacts to a move that endangers the Kurds while either refusing to react or defending actions that clearly threaten the very core of American democracy. Why that is the case is something I’ll leave for the reader to ponder.