Turkey’s incursion into Syria on Wednesday is prompting fresh bipartisan condemnation of President Donald Trump’s moves and more congressional threats to hamstring Turkey economically, with some Republicans calling the situation "sickening" and a "terrible mistake" by the president.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), otherwise reliable allies of Trump, both lambasted the president on Wednesday after Turkey moved into northeastern Syria, which is occupied by Kurdish allies of the United States. The U.S. worked closely with Kurds to defeat the Islamic State, and now lawmakers in both parties fear Trump’s conversation on Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that led to a U.S. pullout has become a “disaster in the making,” as Graham put it.
“Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration. This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS,” said Graham, vowing to lead congressional efforts “to make Erdogan pay a heavy price. I urge President Trump to change course while there is still time.”
Cheney said that “President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria is having sickening and predictable consequences” and vowed that lawmakers “must and will act to limit the catastrophic impact of this decision.” Just this year lawmakers in both parties have showed significant support for a continued U.S. presence in Turkey.
The Kurds “actually fought on the ground. They had people dying. To just abandon them like that so the Turks can come in and slaughter them is not just immoral, it taints our reputation all over the world,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Tuesday evening. “It’s a terrible mistake. We’ll have to think of what options there are. I’m sure the Senate will, potentially, take some vote to disagree with that decision.”
Trump has defended his actions as a much-needed withdrawal from the Middle East. But he was conducting some measure of damage control on Wednesday, releasing a statement about Turkey’s Syrian invasion: “The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea.”
“Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment,” Trump said.
Despite the cascade of criticism from Democrats and Republicans like, Trump has gained plaudits from libertarian-leaning allies like Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Thomas Massie, both Republicans from Kentucky. On Wednesday afternoon Paul said that Trump is “the first President in my lifetime to understand what is our national interest and what is not. He is stopping the endless wars and we will be stronger as a result. The Cheney/Graham Neocon War Caucus has cost us too much fighting endless wars.
Trump called U.S. intervention in the Middle East the “worst decision ever made in the history of our country” and retweeted Sergio Gor, a Rand Paul aide, who asked why Democrats weren’t supporting Trump’s decision.
Historically, Democrats have been far more in line with dovish foreign policy and scaling back the U.S. presence in the Middle East. But liberals and more centrist Democrats alike have lashed out at Trump this week, with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) declaring that Trump has “left our allies at risk of being slaughtered and spurred massive additional instability.”
In an interview on MSNBC, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) laid out why Trump is facing bipartisan criticism rather than more predictable opposition from GOP hawks.
“There are many Democrats that are for a responsible withdrawal from Syria,” Khanna said, arguing Trump moved without forging any sort of assurances for the Kurdish people. “What we should have done is get Erdogan to commit not to invade the Kurds. And we have extraordinary leverage. They are a NATO ally, we can say: ‘You won’t be part of NATO if you do this.’ We sell them weapons, we provide them economic aid.”
Khanna said “everything is on the table” if Turkey continues military actions in Northeastern Syria. Graham is working on a sanctions bill with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have been critical of the president’s withdrawal from Syria. Congress could in theory insert language responding to the situation in Syria in either an upcoming spending bill or a defense policy bill, both of which are must-pass bills.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday night that he expects “Congress will take some form of action.” A nonbinding amendment expressing support for a presence in Syria easily passed the Senate earlier this year with 70 votes, signaling there could be enough support to override a presidential veto.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine