By Steve Holland
US President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended himself against fierce criticism from fellow Republicans over his decision to clear U.S. troops out of northern Syria, which has allowed Turkey to attack America’s Kurdish allies unimpeded.
As Turkey launched its attack on Kurdish militia positions on Wednesday, Trump aligned himself with anti-war voices in the Republican Party like Senator Rand Paul.
“This morning, Turkey, a NATO member, invaded Syria. The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea,” Trump said in a statement.
He added: “There are no American soldiers in the area. From the first day I entered the political arena, I made it clear that I did not want to fight these endless, senseless wars —especially those that don’t benefit the United States.”
Trump has enraged many Republicans and Democrats with his abrupt decision on Sunday to redeploy 50 U.S. troops from northern Syria after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told him a long-planned assault against the Kurds would start soon.
U.S. Representative Liz Cheney, a national security hawk and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said in a statement that Trump’s decision would have “sickening and predictable consequences.”
“The U.S. is abandoning our ally the Kurds, who fought ISIS on the ground and helped protect the U.S. homeland. This decision aids America’s adversaries, Russia, Iran, and Turkey, and paves the way for a resurgence of ISIS. This action imperils American security and that of our allies. Congress must and will act to limit the catastrophic impact of this decision,” she said.
Trump cast his decision as in line with his long-held belief that the United States cannot be the world’s policeman and must bring some troops home.
But it comes as he needs as much Republican support as possible to fight an impeachment inquiry launched by Democrats who control the U.S. House of Representatives based on his attempt to get Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is one of Trump’s closest confidants in Congress and a frequent golf partner, has angrily split with Trump over Syria.
“This is the pre-9/11 mentality that paved the way for 9/11: ‘What’s happening in Afghanistan is no concern to us.’ So if he follows through with this, it’d be the biggest mistake of his presidency,” Graham told Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends.”
Graham said on Twitter that he would lead an effort in Congress “to make Erdogan pay a heavy price” for the incursion.
Trump on Monday had threatened to “totally destroy and obliterate” the Turkish economy if Turkey took any action he considered “off-limits” following his decision. (Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Makini Brice Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)