'We can’t abandon the Kurds now': Lindsey Graham slams Trump move to let Turkey enter Syria as 'delusional'

USA Today Politics 2 months ago

WASHINGTON – Sen. Lindsey Graham appeared on one of President Donald Trump's favorite news programs Wednesday to again make a passionate appeal against the president's decision to pull U.S. forces out of northeastern Syria as Turkey begins military incursion into the region. 

Trump has defended the move, saying it up to America's partners in the region like Turkey to "protect their own territory." And he said that "in no way have we abandoned the Kurds," warning Turkey that if it "does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits" he would "totally destroy and obliterate" its economy.

But Graham – generally one of the president's staunchest supporters in the Senate – said despite Trump's rhetoric, Turkey has made it clear they are entering Syria to battle the Kurds, who were a key ally in the U.S. fight against the Islamic State. 

"When Turkey goes into Syria, they’re not going in to fight ISIS. They’re going in to kill the Kurds because in their eyes they’re more of a threat to Turkey than ISIS," the South Carolina Republican said on "Fox & Friends. He added that "every military person" has told Trump not to pull the troops out. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that his country had begun military operations into Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria. Prior to Trump's announcement this week, the U.S. and Turkey had conducted joint patrols in a safe zone along the border as part of an agreement in which the Kurds would be left alone. 

Host Brian Kilmeade pointed out that Trump's decision had pleased members of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. 

"No, this is not Rand Paul. This is Obama. Obama did the same thing in Iraq," Graham said comparing the move to President Barack Obama's decision to pull troops out of Iraq, which he and others blamed for the rise of the Islamic State. 

"We destroyed ISIS with the help of the Kurds," he said. "We can’t abandon the Kurds now. We can’t turn it over to Turkey. To think that will work is really delusional and dangerous." 

He also criticized Trump's opposition to military deployments as "the pre-9/11 mentality that paved the way for 9/11." 

On Wednesday. Trump tweeted that "going into the Middle East is the worst decision ever made in the history of our country!" 

Graham responded that "American isolationism did not work before WWII, did not work before 9/11" and "will not work now." 

It was Graham's second appearance this week on Fox News' morning show to denounce Trump's Syria decision. On Monday, he said the move was "unnerving to its core." The president often tweets about the segments on "Fox & Friends" and Graham might have hoped Trump would hear his appeals. 

In an interview with Axios on Tuesday, Graham said he had not spoken to the president since the decision was announced but added, "He knows how I feel." 

Graham told the news site that Trump was "putting the nation at risk" and "putting his presidency at risk" in a move that was "worse than when Obama left Iraq" because "you've got so much information" about what the consequences would be. 

According to Graham and other critics – including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – the U.S. pullout will benefit Iran and Russia while risking an Islamic State resurgence. 

One of the primary concerns is the fate of thousands of ISIS fighters and their family members currently being guarded by Kurdish fighters. The Kurds have warned that they will not be able to effectively watch over those prisoners if they are forced to battle Turkish forces. 

Graham said that Trump's decision would "turn northern Syria over to Iran eventually and be responsible for the breakout of thousands of ISIS fighters." 

He made it clear to Axios that he was unswayed by the president's justifications for his decision. 

"If I hear the president say one more time, 'I made a campaign promise to get out of Syria,' I'm going to throw up," he said, framing it as an abandonment of his duty to defend America from threats and to honor the nation's alliances. 

"Nobody besides Trump believes the president's claim that the U.S. is not abandoning the Kurds," he said. 

Graham said that he plans to introduce a bill calling for sanctions against Turkey in response to the military incursion. Democrats have indicated support for such legislation and Graham predicted he would be able to secure a veto-proof majority of as many as 90 votes. 

"Who the hell supports Erdogan over the Kurds?" he asked. 

On "Fox & Friends, he also called for "a day of prayer for the Kurds and the Christians that going to be in harm's way." On Twitter, he repeated his call for prayer for the Kurds "who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump administration." 

Though Graham has not held back in his criticism of the president's Syria decision, he remains a fierce Trump defender when it comes to the impeachment inquiry launched by the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives. 

Graham told Fox News that congressional Democrats "are about to destroy the nation for no good reason." 

Democrats allege that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of his chief political rivals heading into the 2020 election. But Graham said "I do not see anything wrong there" after reading a rough transcript of a call between Trump and the president of Ukraine. 

Graham repeated his desire for Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to share evidence about corruption in Ukraine that ties back to the Democrats." 

Despite Giuliani's claims, no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or other Democrats in Ukraine has been revealed. 

"I think Rudy’s got a story to tell. I want him to tell it in my committee," Graham said. 

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