Graham Says Trump’s ‘Biggest Lie’ Is of Islamic State’s Defeat
(Bloomberg) — One of Donald Trump’s biggest defenders in Congress rebuked the president’s decision to step aside from Kurdish allies in Syria while Turkey’s military advances, saying it would result in the re-emergence of ISIS.
“ISIS is not defeated, my friend. The biggest lie being told by the administration is that ISIS is defeated,” Senator Lindsey Graham told “Fox and Friends” in a phone call Monday. “The Caliphate is destroyed, but there’s thousands of fighters” still there.
Graham said he would sponsor a resolution urging Trump to reconsider the decision he called “shortsighted and irresponsible.” Graham said he and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen will also introduce a resolution to impose sanctions on Turkey if it invades Syria.
The sharp criticism from Graham, a South Carolina Republican who usually is one of Trump’s fiercest defenders in the Senate, signals the president’s plan could meet resistance on Capitol Hill. Other Republican lawmakers were joining in expressing misgivings on Monday, echoing the admonishment that prompted Trump to reverse course on a similar pullout announced last year.
Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said on Twitter that “the Trump administration has made a grave mistake that will have implications far beyond Syria.”
Representative Peter King, a Republican from New York, tweeted that the move “betrays Kurds, strengthens ISIS and endangers American homeland.”
And Trump’s former United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, emphasized the risks of the U.S. abandoning allies in the Mideast. “We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back,” she said on Twitter. “The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.”
Even before the pushback, Trump was defending his decision Monday, insisting on Twitter that the U.S. can’t afford to be stuck in “ridiculous endless wars.” The U.S. was only supposed to be in Syria for 30 days but stayed and “got deeper and deeper into battle with no aim in sight,” Trump tweeted, insisting he’d held off this fight for almost three years.
Trump’s move represents a significant shift in U.S. policy that raises questions about the fate of tens of thousands of Islamic State detainees and casts further doubt on the reliability of the U.S. as an ally in the region.
Trump said Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to “figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their ‘neighborhood.”’
The White House said Turkey would take responsibility for any Islamic State fighters captured in the area over the past two years. It gave no details and it wasn’t immediately clear what, if any, plan the NATO allies had agreed to handle the detainees or how they would be transferred to Turkish custody.
But the assurance represents a potential win for Trump, who has insisted that the U.S. would bear no responsibility for any Islamic State detainees, as he gears up for the 2020 election.
Close U.S. Ally
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a close U.S. ally in the fight to defeat Islamic State. But Turkey considers Syria’s Kurdish militants a threat to its national security, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his forces are ready to begin a military operation against them in northeastern Syria.
The U.S. in 2015 provided air support for Kurdish militias to retake the critical town of Kobani from Islamic State and has since used Kurdish fighters as ground troops in the campaign to clear Syria of the group.
Trump’s approach to Syria has previously caused friction with administration officials. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, resigned last December after Trump said the U.S. would withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan — a decision Trump later reversed.
Graham, who has not shied from criticizing other Trump moves on foreign policy, said that fatigue with the fight is not a reason to abandon it. Leaving the U.S. wartime Kurdish allies will only make it harder to find allies in the future, he warned.
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“If we abandon them, good luck getting anybody to help America in the future with radical Islam, al Qaeda and ISIS,” Graham said. “You may be tired of fighting radical Islam, but they’re not tired of fighting you.”
Graham called Trump’s decision “impulsive” and said the ensuing chaos in the region will only help U.S. foes. “Iran is licking their chops,” he said. “And if I’m an ISIS fighter, I’ve got a second lease on life.”
An adviser to the Syrian Democratic Forces said that Trump’s move will strengthen Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies Iran and Russia.
“The Kurds told me this morning they were going to fight,” Moti Kahana, an adviser to the Kurdish-led forces, said by telephone from New Jersey. “They have two options. They can partner with Iran and Assad in order to prevent Turkish intervention into Syria or face a fight against Turkey in the northern border area and with Iran” in the southeast.
Even if the Kurds don’t fight, Kahana said, “they will shift their alliance from the Americans” to Russia, Assad and Iran.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet that the U.S. is “an irrelevant occupioer in Syria” and it’s “futile to seek its permission or relyl on it for security.”
(Updates with comment from adviser to Syrian Kurds, Iran’s Zarif in final paragraphs.)
–With assistance from Steven T. Dennis.
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