WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump stood by his decision to move U.S. troops out of harm’s way Wednesday as Turkish forces invaded northern Syria.
“The worst mistake the United States has ever made in my opinion was going into the Middle East,” Trump told reporters during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Trump then heaped scorn on his critics, who he said have not had to meet face to face with U.S. troops who have been wounded on the field of battle. Trump recalled giving out Purple Heart medals at Walter Reed National Medical Center last week.
“I get that we want to remove troops and that it’s not our war,” responded Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a former Navy doctor and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. “However, even one soldier in that area was preventing Turkey” from trying to wipe out Syrian Kurds, allies who helped U.S. forces defeat ISIS.
Jasser, usually a Trump supporter, faulted Trump for giving Turkey a “green light” to invade Syria as “Islamist hegemony.”
During an interview with Judy Woodruff of “PBS News Hour,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied that Trump gave Turkey a “green light.”
“On the phone call on Sunday night, it became very clear that there were American soldiers that were going to be at risk and the president made a decision to put them in a place where they were out of harm’s way,” Pompeo countered.
For his part, Trump, who announced Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit the United States on Nov. 13, warned that if the Turkish leader allows his troops to commit atrocities against the Kurds, “I will wipe out his economy.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a usual Trump supporter and constant golf companion, has tried to change Trump’s mind on the matter. “Most members of Congress believe it would be wrong to abandon the Kurds who have been strong allies against ISIS,” Graham tweeted this week.
Graham and fellow Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., quickly released a plan to impose “severe” economic sanctions on Erdogan himself, as well as other Turkish political leaders and entities that support Turkish energy interests.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposed the decision in a statement, “The president’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Northern Syria is a deeply disturbing development that betrays our Kurdish allies who have been instrumental partners in our mission to eradicate ISIS.”
When a reporter asked Trump if the U.S. will appear to be an untrustworthy ally in the future and if that will hamper future foreign policy initiatives, Trump responded, “Alliances are very easy.”
A moral wrong
Bradley Bowman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Center on Military and Political Power called Trump’s acquiescence to Erdogan “morally wrong.”
The United States provided air cover for the Syrian Democratic Forces while Syrian militia did the bulk of the fighting and dying on the ground against ISIS, Bowman said. Trump’s announcement “undercuts America’s reputation as a trustworthy ally.”
“This is something that people in the Middle East will remember for years, or even decades, to come. This is something that Americans will hear told back to them, 10, 20, 30 years from now,” Bowman warned.
As Syrian militia move to fight Turkey, they will be less able to prevent the escape of some 11,000 ISIS jihadis held in Syrian Democratic Forces detention facilities. “The most likely outcome is massive numbers of ISIS militants escaping and regrouping,” according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish lawmaker.
Kilic Burga Kanat, research director for the Turkish think tank SETA, defended Trump’s actions. “This is Trump’s position from the very beginning, to pull out troops from endless wars,” he told the Review-Journal.
“I’m not sure what they mean betrayal of the Kurds,” Kanat added, as the Turkish military will be focused on Kurdish militia that advocate for an autonomous Kurdish state.