Trump Infuriates Top Republican Allies with Syria Withdrawal

Decision to pull out U.S. forces, permit Turkish aggression, draws GOP dissent

A picture taken in Akcakale at the Turkish border with Syria shows smokes rising from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad
A picture taken in Akcakale at the Turkish border with Syria shows smokes rising from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad / Getty Images
October 10, 2019

President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw American forces from Syria is testing the bounds of his support among leading Republican members of Congress, with many calling out the president for a decision they say is dangerous.

As U.S. forces vacate Syria, Turkish military assets are already moving in, waging a bloody offensive against America's Kurdish allies who have long been a dependable partner in the fight against radical groups such as ISIS.

Trump's decision is sparking accusations that the United States is abandoning its longtime partners in the region and setting the stage for Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to engage in mass killings.

Top Republican foreign policy leaders in Congress, many of whom have previously backed the president's foreign policy decisions, were quick to break with the administration and criticize its decision to withdraw American forces.

"Turkey's aggressive actions raise serious concerns," Sen. Jim Risch (R., Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. "Such an action lacks international support and risks a precipitous decline in the U.S.-Turkey relationship, as President Trump has robustly described."

"Continued Turkish aggression will derail international efforts to maintain pressure against the Islamic State and will undoubtedly result in further humanitarian suffering," Risch said. "The Kurds, who have borne the brunt of the fighting against ISIS, have been instrumental in preventing the terrorist group's resurgence. All parties should immediately de-escalate and return to border security discussions."

Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, offered similarly dire warnings about the repercussions of the administration's decision.

"The scene unfolding in Syria today is unacceptable," McCaul said in a statement. "Turkey must immediately end its military operation, which has already resulted in civilian casualties."

"This Turkish invasion is a direct threat to our partner, the Syrian Kurds, and will create conditions for ISIS to reassert themselves in the region, while at the same time emboldening [Russian president Vladimir] Putin, Iran and [Syrian leader Bashar al] Assad," McCaul said. "I am particularly concerned with security at the facilities holding ISIS detainees and family members, which if compromised, would greatly aid in ISIS' resurgence and threaten our homeland. Turkey should not take actions that reverse our hard-fought gains against ISIS."

McCaul said he is already "working with my colleagues in the House to address this dynamic situation in a bipartisan way."

With the withdrawal garnering near unanimous condemnation, it is likely Congress will soon begin deliberations on a package of sanctions targeting Turkey for its offensive against the Kurds.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.), another vocal Republican critic of the Syria decision, said "Congress must and will act to limit the catastrophic impact of this decision."

"President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria is having sickening and predictable consequences," Cheney said Wednesday. "Turkey is invading Syria in reported coordination with Russian-backed forces, ISIS terrorists are launching attacks in Raqqa, and thousands of ISIS fighters are biding their time in makeshift prisons. 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."

The withdrawal has also been met with concern by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). It warned that Turkey's aggression is setting the stage for the ethnic cleansing of multiple religious groups.

"Civilians in territory controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who represent a diverse group of religious and ethnic communities, are now at dangerous risk of falling victim to the violent chaos that Turkey's incursion is likely to spark," USCIRF chair Tony Perkins said in a statement. "The United States and international partners must move quickly to limit civilian casualties and to prevent a repeat of the disastrous occupation of Afrin, Syria, by Turkish forces and their Syrian militia allies since 2018, which has displaced beleaguered Kurds, Christians, Yazidis and others."