In a move that took many U.S. allies and White House staff by surprise, President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that he is planning a full withdrawal of the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, triggering a wave of criticism from members of his own party.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency,” he tweeted.
After historic victories against ISIS, it’s time to bring our great young people home! pic.twitter.com/xoNjFzQFTp
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
The following morning, hours after Trump claimed that ISIS had been defeated, his rhetoric shifted when he said in a statement, “Russia, Iran, Syria, & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us.”
In fact, Trump’s announcement was celebrated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who agreed that ISIS had been defeated in Syria. “Donald’s right, and I agree with him,” he said at his annual news conference on Thursday, according to the New York Times.
Putin’s remarks are not surprising, as the U.S. and Russia back conflicting sides in the Syrian war that has raged on for nearly eight years. With the United States out, Russia, which supports the Syrian government, will likely have greater control in shaping military strategy in the war-torn country.
The backlash seemed to reach a boiling point Thursday morning, when Trump took to Twitter in a defensive explanation of his decision, arguing that “Getting out of Syria was no surprise.”
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. #MAGA
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2018
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…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2018
Despite the president’s rhetoric, many high-profile Republicans remain unconvinced. Here are just a few of them:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
In a press conference with Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Jack Reed (D-RI) on Thursday, Graham announced a bipartisan resolution urging the president to reverse course on the decision to withdraw troops.
“None of us believe that ISIS has been defeated … This decision, I believe, has been made by the president not with sound military advice, against it,” Graham said. “I don’t know how this decision was made. It literally came out of left field.”
“This is akin to surrendering,” he added.
Earlier on Thursday, Graham promised that he would continue to pressure Trump on the issue, after calling the withdrawal a win for Iran, Russia, ISIS, and Assad.
.@LindseyGrahamSC just told me to expect him to tweet back at the president every time he tweets about Syria. "I'm not letting this go."
— Emma Dumain (@Emma_Dumain) December 20, 2018
According to Politico, Graham told Vice President Mike Pence Wednesday he was “personally offended” that he had to hear about the decision from the media instead of from the White House.
Graham also joined Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Angus King (I-ME), and Tom Cotton (R-AR) in drafting a letter to the White House Wednesday calling on Trump to reconsider his decision.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Referencing a meeting between Pence and Republican senators on the hill Wednesday, Rubio told Politico, “Virtually everyone who spoke, spoke in opposition to the decision … 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.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE)
Of Trump’s decision, Sasse said Wednesday that military generals “believe the high-fiving winners today are Iran, ISIS and Hezbollah … The losers are Israel, humanitarian victims, and U.S. intelligence gathering … A lot of American allies will be slaughtered if this retreat is implemented.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker told reporters Wednesday that, shortly after announcing the troop withdrawal, Trump cancelled a meeting with the senator to discuss Syria.
“Recent history is wrought with the kind of outcomes that happen when you just precipitously wake up one day and decide you’re going to do something,” Corker said. “I’ve never seen a decision like this since I’ve been here — 12 years — where nothing is communicated in advance and all of a sudden this type of massive decision takes place.”
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO)
“I urge President Trump to immediately halt any plans to withdraw US troops from Syria and to consult with Congress on a long-term Syria strategy that protects US national interests and denies a win for Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, and the Iranian mullahs,” Gardner tweeted Wednesday.
The US is the only global power able to stop Russia, Iran, & their terrorist proxies in Syria from total control of a region vital to national security. We've made significant progress in our fight against ISIS but the fight isn't over, & a US withdrawal will embolden bad actors.
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) December 19, 2018
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)
Cotton was one of four Republicans — including Graham, Ernst, and Rubio — who co-signed a letter to Trump, calling on the president to reconsider his decision to withdraw troops from Syria.
“We believe that such action at this time is a premature and costly mistake that not only threatens the safety and security of the United States, but also emboldens ISIS, Bashar al Assad, Iran, and Russia,” they wrote. “If you decide to follow through with your decision to pull our troops out of Syria, any remnants of ISIS in Syria will surely renew and embolden their efforts in the region.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)
“I think the first mistake is to surprise Members of Congress,” Cornyn told CNN Wednesday. “Nobody likes to be surprised.”
Cornyn added the decision would “provoke some hearings … to try to put our collective heads together to figure this out.”
John Cornyn, No. 2 Senate Republican, told me Trump made a "mistake" by blindsiding Hill on Syria move, warning of the impact of withdrawing from Syria. I also asked him if Pence was involved in this decision, and Cornyn said it was clear that Pence was delivering Trump's message pic.twitter.com/90YamZbaUn
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) December 19, 2018
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)
Kinzinger told CNN Wednesday that Trump’s decision rendered him “speechless.”
“To see the president wake up today and say, ‘we’ve defeated them’ when we know that’s not true … that’s not only going to hamper our current operations, it’s going to double or triple the ranks of ISIS because when we leave, they’re going to say, ‘Look, we just defeated the United States without many casualties.”
“This makes no sense to me,” he added. “I don’t get it.”
This is simply not true. https://t.co/Jvie2NxgWz
— Adam Kinzinger (@RepKinzinger) December 19, 2018
Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA)
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Royce told the Washington Post that news of the pullout from Syria was “disturbing.”
“The last administration showed what happens when arbitrary political deadlines … dictate policy in war zones. We must learn from the mistakes of the past, not repeat them,” he said.
This is a developing story and will be updated.