WASHINGTON — The top lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee joined forces to warn about the risk of “a strategic error to remove U.S. forces precipitously from Syria,” reflecting bipartisan furor on Capitol Hill since President Trump declared the battle against ISIS over and withdrawal imminent.
The alarm among committee dealing with foreign policy and the military began with a Trump tweet on Tuesday: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”
He followed that up today with: “Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work. Time to come home & rebuild.”
“Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight,” he added.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) issued a joint statement on their concern that Trump is moving toward pullout “without regard to the impact it might have on our ability to consolidate our military gains against ISIS, ensure the safety of our partners, including the Kurds and other Syrian Democratic Forces, and uphold regional stability against malign actors such as Russia and Iran.”
“ISIS was and still remains a lethal threat to America’s security and will seek to inspire threats to the homeland from safe havens around the world,” Thornberry and Smith added. “An effective counterterrorism strategy to confront those groups remains appropriate. Congress must be fully informed and included in the deliberations about any policy under consideration.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has morphed into a Trump ally through various golf outings between the pair, was quick to criticize Trump’s decision, declaring on Twitter that “withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake.”
“He’s done a lot of good things but this decision in Syria is going to undo a lot of those good things. The biggest winner, I think, is going to be Iran over time and ISIS has not been defeated, they’ve been hurt and they will certainly come back if we leave too soon,” Graham told CNN today. “We learned that in Iraq, so I am basically pleading with the president to reconsider, postpone this withdrawal, make it conditions based. I think you’ll have a lot of support Mr. President to keep our presence in Syria, to stand by our allies the Kurds, and to make sure ISIS doesn’t come back. You’ll have a lot of bipartisan support if you change course.”
The senator added on Twitter, “It is not FAKE NEWS that Russia, Iran, and Assad are unhappy about our decision to withdraw from Syria. They are ECSTATIC!” Graham held a press conference today with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) blasting the move.
Trump tweeted this afternoon, “So hard to believe that Lindsey Graham would be against saving soldier lives & billions of $$$. Why are we fighting for our enemy, Syria, by staying & killing ISIS for them, Russia, Iran & other locals? Time to focus on our Country & bring our youth back home where they belong!”
Graham tweetstormed back that “the troops believe in their commanders and so should you.”
“I urge you to follow sound military advice when it comes to withdrawing from Syria and the fight against ISIS,” he said. “…I cannot and will not empower a decision that I believe – no matter how well-intentioned – is equivalent to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The idea of outsourcing our national security and the fight against ISIS to Russia, Iran, and Assad/Syria is doomed to fail. It will result in an Open Borders policy for ISIS in Syria and elsewhere.”
“You are right to want others to fight more and pay more. The Kurds have fought fiercely against ISIS and have been valuable allies. They deserve better.”
Vice President Mike Pence took the brunt of lawmakers’ ire on Wednesday in a lunch with senators after Trump’s surprise announcement.
“Virtually everyone who spoke, spoke in opposition to the decision,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said afterward. “I didn’t hear anybody that disagreed with the view I’ve taken … this is a major mistake. And I hope they reverse it. Because if not, I think it will haunt this administration.“
Libertarian GOP Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), who has been bending the president’s ear on foreign policy, was ecstatic about the news, though.
“I’m proud of the president today to hear that he is declaring victory in Syria. Most of the voices around here like to stay everywhere for all time, and they believe that it doesn’t work unless you go somewhere and stay forever,” Paul said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “The president has the courage to say, ‘We won in Syria, and we’re coming home.’ First president in my lifetime really to do that.”