We now know what it takes to get Republicans in the U.S. Senate to stand up to President Donald Trump.
“If reports about US retreat in #Syria are accurate, the Trump administration has made a grave mistake that will have implications far beyond Syria,” tweeted Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
One of the president’s staunchest defenders, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, was even more blunt, using the strongest rhetoric possible:
“No matter what President Trump is saying about his decision, it is EXACTLY what President Obama did in Iraq with even more disastrous consequences for our national security.
“Unlike President Obama, I hope President Trump will reassess and take sound military advice.”
It doesn’t get worse among the GOP than being compared to President Barack Obama.
But this was not simply a revolt among Republicans. Some Democrats weren’t having any of it, either.
“Let us be clear: The president has sided with authoritarian leaders of Turkey and Russia over our loyal allies and America’s own interests,” tweeted Hillary Clinton. “His decision is a sickening betrayal both of the Kurds and his oath of office.”
Despite her clarity, however, the former secretary of state is being, at best, overly simplistic. The Kurds have been an informal, strategic ally in the fight against the Islamic State. Turkey, however, is a member of NATO and an ally by treaty.
It may well be time to rethink Turkey’s NATO membership, given its slide into authoritarianism, but as it stands aiding a treaty ally is hardly a “betrayal” of the president’s oath of office.
It is also worth pointing out that the primary Kurdish military faction, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, is itself classified as a terrorist group by the U.S. and NATO.
But some among the Republican grassroots have praised President Trump, saying he was fulfilling a campaign promise to get the U.S. out of Syria.
Unfortunately, the president is not removing U.S. troops from Syria, which we have called for and would welcome, although it should be carried out in an orderly fashion. He is simply redeploying them within Syria, moving them out of the way of Turkish forces that will have as their primary targets not the remnants of the Islamic State but Kurdish rebels.
The president seems well aware of this, and said as much in a pair of over-the-top tweets: “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).”
Certainly the U.S. has leverage with Turkey. It is a NATO ally and it buys weapons from the U.S. Trump also knows this, because he brags about how much military equipment the U.S. sells to Turkey.
The question remains, however, what in the president’s “great and unmatched wisdom” does he consider “off limits”?
The whole situation is a mess, highlighted by the fact our Syrian intervention, begun under President Obama, was never authorized by Congress in the first place. We have no pressing national interest in Syria. Our NATO ally is increasingly a bad actor in the region, and some of our Kurdish allies are designated terrorists.
We’d like to see an orderly U.S. withdrawal from Syria that doesn’t let the Turks think they have free rein in the region, but that would be more likely if the only voices the president heard weren’t those who either go along with his every move or insist that the U.S. stay involved in every overseas conflict forever.