Republican Senator-elect Mitt Romney (Utah) on Wednesday criticized President Donald Trump's decision to pull U.S. soldiers out of Syria, saying that American forces are in the war-torn country to support allies, provide stability to the Middle East, and prevent hostile actors from moving in and killing large numbers of people.
CNN anchor Jake Tapper asked Romney why he thinks Trump is making a mistake with his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
Recent Stories in National Security
"Well, the reason that we're involved in the world is to make the world safer, which is good for the world and good for us," Romney said. "Because we trade with places throughout the world. We sell products throughout the world. People come and go into our various countries, and we share not only culture, but education, technology, innovation. And so having a stable world where we can conduct trade is a very good thing for us and for the world."
"And so we're in Syria with a very small footprint, about 2,000 people to help our allies there, the Kurds," Romney continued. "And in some respects, to provide some stability to that region so that [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad or [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan or the Russians or the Iranians don't rush in and slaughter people, slaughter our allies."
There are currently about 2,000 U.S. soldiers deployed in Syria, primarily to train local forces that are fighting the Islamic State. Many analysts have also noted that, beyond combating ISIS, the troops act as a deterrent against Iran, which has gained an extensive military presence in Syria while fighting to keep the Assad regime in power, and Turkey, which views Washington's Kurdish allies as an enemy and is expected to take military action against the Kurds once U.S. soldiers leave.
James Mattis resigned as secretary of defense last month after Trump announced his decision to withdraw troops. On Wednesday, Trump claimed that he fired Mattis over a lack of results in the Middle East, disputing earlier claims from the White House that Mattis resigned on his own.
Romney said he was troubled by Trump not getting input from Mattis when making his decision.
"So pulling out on a precipitous basis without interacting with them [U.S. allies] and coordinating this with them and getting the input, for instance, from Secretary Mattis, is something which I think is very troubling to me and to a number of others," Romney said.
Romney also told Tapper that he wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post this week slamming Trump's character in part because of the president's decision on Syria.
"I think it's important, as I begin this new job, to make it very clear where I stand. And I also note that the departure of Secretary Mattis and the decision to pull out of Syria and the abrupt way it was done was a precipitating event for my finally going on this record," Romney said.