Republicans rip Donald Trump for pulling US troops out of Syria: "ISIS is not defeated"

Trump has decided to pull American troops out of Syria, much to the chagrin of Sens. Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published December 19, 2018 12:42PM (EST)

Lindsey Graham; Donald Trump; Marco Rubio (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Getty/Alex Wong)
Lindsey Graham; Donald Trump; Marco Rubio (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Getty/Alex Wong)

President Donald Trump is facing harsh criticism from two Republican senators in response to his decision to pull American troops out of Syria.

"Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake," Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina wrote as the first in a series of tweets. "With all due respect, ISIS is not defeated in Syria, Iraq, and after just returning from visiting there -- certainly not Afghanistan. President @realDonaldTrump is right to want to contain Iranian expansion. However, withdrawal of our forces in Syria mightily undercuts that effort and put our allies, the Kurds at risk. A decision to withdraw will also be viewed as a boost to ISIS desire to come back."

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida expressed similar dismay with the announcement. In a tweet he proclaimed that "'full and rapid' withdrawal from #Syria is a grave error with broader implications beyond just the fight against #ISIS." Elaborating in a Facebook video, Rubio said that "I know that all of us would view that as a positive step in terms of the ability to sort of bring our servicemen and women back from the Middle East in a place where they are currently engaged. All of us wish we lived in a world where their service overseas was not necessary. That is not the world we live in. And I believe the decision that was made today was a grave error that is going to have incredible consequences that potentially have not been fully thought through."

Many Democrats shared this dim view of the president's actions. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia is reported to have said that it's difficult to believe the withdrawal from Syria isn't connected to the Patriot missile sales to Turkey, which amounted to $3.5 billion.

In a message on Twitter, Trump explained himself by saying that "we have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency." As The Washington Post explained, Trump has long "questioned the value of costly and dangerous military missions overseas." That said, many foreign policy officials think Trump's decision s a mistake, with The New York Times reporting that "Pentagon officials were still trying to talk the president out of the decision early Wednesday morning, arguing that such a move would betray Kurdish allies who have fought alongside American troops in Syria and who could find themselves under attack in a military offensive now threatened by Turkey." The report also found a Defense Department official who believes that the president "wants to divert attention away from the series of legal challenges confronting him over the recent days: the Russian investigation run by the special counsel as well as the sentencing of his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in a hush-money scandal to buy the silence of two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump."

That view was certainly shared by the Times' conservative pundit Bret Stephens, who wrote on Twitter that "a gift to Iran, Hezbollah, and Putin. And a shameful betrayal of our Kurdish allies without whom we wouldn't have defeated ISIS. Another day in the Trump White House."

By contrast, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — a major voice of isolationist Republicanism — wrote on Twitter that "I am happy to see a President who can declare victory and bring our troops out of a war. It’s been a long time since that has happened."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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