WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Monday he and Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen will introduce bipartisan sanctions against Turkey if it crosses the Syrian border and attacks Kurdish forces, after President Donald Trump said late Sunday that he was withdrawing U.S. troops from the border region.
“I hope and expect sanctions against Turkey — if necessary — would be veto-proof,” Graham said.
“This decision to abandon our Kurdish allies and turn Syria over to Russia, Iran, & Turkey will put every radical Islamist on steroids. Shot in the arm to the bad guys. Devastating for the good guys,” Graham tweeted.
Trump was digging in his heels Monday morning after his decision to withdraw troops from northeast Syria and allow Turkey to expand operations there, despite warnings from lawmakers and officials in his own party that it could lead to “America’s worst nightmare”: facilitating the resurgence of ISIS and general instability there.
Trump’s endorsement late Sunday of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plan to launch an incursion across the Turkey-Syria border could facilitate a clash between Turkish troops and longtime Kurdish U.S. allies who have been instrumental in dismantling ISIS and securing the region.
Turkey classifies the Kurds, who fight as a component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as a terrorist cell.
The Kurdish allies “fought with us,” Trump acknowledged in a series of tweets Monday, but only after being paid “massive amounts of money” and supplied with substantial training and equipment from the U.S., he wrote.
The president indicated that he expects a clash between the Kurds and Turkish military but that the U.S. will not pick a side or act as a buffer to prevent it.
“It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home,” Trump tweeted Monday.
“WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN,” he wrote.
Republican lawmakers and ex-Trump administration officials have been highly critical of the president’s decision, which was announced via a White House statement late Sunday. Some Republicans called it an abandonment of the U.S. military’s Kurdish allies that could hasten ISIS’s return if the region once again descends into chaos.
Graham, one of Trump’s closest allies in the Senate, tweeted Monday that the president’s decision in Syria is a “disaster in the making” if press reports about the pullback are true.
“I will do everything I can to sanction (the) Turkish military and economy if they set one foot in Syria,” the South Carolina Republican said Monday on “Fox & Friends.”
Joining Graham in the GOP chorus criticizing Trump’s decision on Monday to withdraw U.S. influence from the region were Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (“grave mistake”), Utah Sen. Mitt Romney (“a betrayal”), Trump’s former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley (“big mistake”), Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney (“catastrophic mistake”), and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a frequent Trump critic on the House Foreign Affairs Committee (“This is wrong”).
Brett McGurk, the former special presidential envoy to the global coalition to defeat ISIS, derided what he called Trump’s impulsive decision-making process, claiming that he makes momentous decisions on international policy with “no knowledge or deliberation.”
“He sends military personnel into harm’s way with no backing. He blusters and then leaves our allies exposed when adversaries call his bluff or he confronts a hard phone call,” wrote McGurk, who served in the administrations of Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
“Bottom line: Trump tonight after one call with a foreign leader provided a gift to Russia, Iran, and ISIS,” McGurk wrote.
Trump has alarmed Middle East hardliners in his party throughout his first term, often lamenting the “endless wars” in the region and at times trying to abruptly flip long-standing U.S. policy by announcing pullbacks of U.S. influence.
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned Jan. 1 over Trump’s announcement last year — later rolled back — that the U.S. would withdraw all forces from Syria.
The president misleadingly claimed that ISIS had been defeated in the region, despite near-unanimous agreement among experts and officials there who said the group still poses a substantial threat.
In his resignation letter to Trump, Mattis made clear he had grown too disillusioned by his boss’s treatment of U.S. allies and his “America First” philosophy.
“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” Mattis wrote.
Trump signaled Monday that he would cede responsibility for the security of northeastern Syria to Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds.
“They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years,” Trump tweeted.
“We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!” he wrote.
Cheney, the third most powerful House Republican, warned that such a removed perspective on military operations in volatile regions prone to terrorist sympathies ignores the lessons of history and puts national security at risk.
“Withdrawing US forces from Northern Syria is a catastrophic mistake that puts our gains against ISIS at risk and threatens US security,” Cheney tweeted Monday.
“This decision ignores lesson of 9/11. Terrorists thousands of miles away can and will use their safe-havens to launch attacks against America,” she wrote.