Thursday, December 20, 2018

Graham slams Trump for ‘Obama-like decision’ to pull troops out of Syria - Adam Shaw

by Adam Shaw

“This to me is an Obama-like decision. I hope I'm wrong. But I don't think I am and I have no understanding of why we're doing this,”

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on Wednesday blasted President Trump’s decision to pull all troops out of Syria, calling it an “Obama-like decision” that would signal Middle East allies can’t rely on America.

U.S. officials told Fox News that the U.S. was considering pulling all 2,000 American troops on the ground in Syria. Trump appeared to allude to the decision in a morning tweet when he stated: "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

But the reported plan met with immediate criticism from some Republican lawmakers, including Graham, who is often squarely aligned with the Trump White House. In an interview with Fox News, he compared the move to former President Barack Obama’s decision to begin withdrawing from Iraq in 2011, which is frequently blamed for creating a vacuum that allowed the Islamic State to gain a foothold in the region. He said it would also put America's Kurdish allies at risk.

“My theory is that by pulling 2,200 out in Northeastern Syria, that's going to boost ISIS' ability to come back,” he told Fox News. “But even more than that, the Kurds in Syria, who came forward when nobody else would to help us fight ISIS, fought bravely and died in large numbers, they're going to feel abandoned.”

“This to me is an Obama-like decision. I hope I'm wrong. But I don't think I am and I have no understanding of why we're doing this,” he said. “To me, it’s an ill-conceived idea. The downside is really great, and the upside is pretty small.”

He also said that the decision came "out of left-field," that Congress has not been formally informed and that it would make it harder to get support from allies in the region in the future: "Good luck getting somebody to help you fight this war in the future."

While Graham has emerged as an important Trump ally on Capitol Hill -- especially during the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh -- he has parted with the president on recent foreign policy disputes. Earlier this month, Graham also warned Trump about giving Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a "pass" on the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi, saying it would make him look "weak."

On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also criticized the Syria plan -- calling it a “big mistake” that would lead to increased activity by Iran, which could in turn trigger a new Israel-Hezbollah conflict.

“And our adversaries will use this as evidence that America is an unreliable partner. Today’s decision will lead to grave consequences in the months and years to come,” he said.

Earlier, the White House pushed back on the claim that this could mark the end of the campaign in Syria, saying the U.S. was transitioning “to the next phase of this campaign."

“The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists' territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The U.S. first deployed troops to the country in 2015 during the Obama administration as part of a partnership with Kurdish-led ground forces against ISIS.

In late March, Trump said U.S. forces would be leaving Syria “very soon.”

“We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS," he said. "We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon. Very soon, we’re coming out.”

But Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser John Bolton at the time convinced the president to keep American troops on the ground in Syria, not only to continue the ISIS fight, but to keep an eye on Iranian-backed forces in Syria.

“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” Bolton said in September, according to the Associated Press.

Pentagon officials have been caught off guard by the latest White House proposal, multiple officials told Fox News. The development comes less than a week after Trump spoke to Turkish President Recep Erdoğan.

Turkey has long considered the U.S.-backed ground force fighting ISIS in Syria to be a terrorist group due to their links to a separatist group in Turkey which has killed thousands in the past decades.

Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson, Caroline McKee, Chad Pergram, John Roberts and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Adam Shaw


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