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Sarah Huckabee Sanders gets hammered by Fox News for Trump's Syria policy: "He just refounded ISIS!"

Trump's favorite show, "Fox & Friends," turns on him after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigns in protest of Trump


Shira Tarlo
December 21, 2018 5:45PM (UTC)

Brian Kilmeade, the host of President Donald Trump's favorite morning show, "Fox & Friends," ripped into the president over his abrupt announcement that he wants to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria— a decision Kilmeade warned would allow the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, to re-establish its reduced power.

In a conversation with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday, Kilmeade let loose: "Sarah, he's giving Russia a big win. Vladimir Putin praised him. He's also doing exactly what he criticized President Obama for doing. He said President Obama was the founder of ISIS. He just refounded ISIS."

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Trump, during the 2016 presidential campaign, accused former President Barack Obama of being the "founder of ISIS" because of the power vacuum critics contend Obama established after he withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011. "He was the founder," Trump said at the time. "His, the way he got out of Iraq was that that was the founding of ISIS, okay?"

Kilmeade noted that ISIS still has thousands of fighters in the region despite the fact its power has been diminished due to a loss of territory across Iraq and Syria. "The president is really on the griddle with this," Kilmeade said.

Sanders, who appeared somewhat surprised and amused at Kilmeade's claim, replied, "Brian, I have to respectfully and vehemently disagree with you."

"The idea that the president has had anything to do with helping ISIS reemerge is absolutely outrageous," Sanders added.

Kilmeade, who often defends Trump on television, then said, "Leaving is helping."

Sanders continued to push back, stating that if ISIS wants to "pick a fight" with Trump then he will "destroy them and defeat them."

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In a searing insult to Trump's ego, Kilmeade compared Trump's announcement to Obama's attempts to get troops out of Iraq: "He is doing exactly, if not worse, than what President Obama did."

The president appeared to be tuning in as he expressed his frustration on Twitter not long after Kilmeade's outburst. He said, "I've done more damage to ISIS than all recent presidents....not even close!"

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But turning to FoxNews.com would not have served as much of a refuge for the president.

"Trump is about to repeat Obama's mistake in the Middle East," read a headline of the network's website on Friday.

"When your enemies are cheering," wrote former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, "you have made a mistake."

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Russian President Vladimir Putin actually praised Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria on Thursday.

"The fact that the US has decided to withdraw its troops is right," Putin said at an annual press conference.

But Trump's decision prompted confusion and alarm in Washington and beyond. Just a day before Trump declared ISIS was defeated, State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said, "We've made significant progress recently in the campaign ... but the job is not yet done." In addition, Defense Secretary James Mattis, who did not agree with Trump's thinking and decision on Syria, announced his resignation Thursday.

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In his resignation letter, Mattis wrote, "Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position."

ISIS has lost significant territory it once held across Iraq and Syria and proclaimed its "caliphate." But multiple reports, including one from the Pentagon inspector general, suggested the group appeared to have bounced back from some of its setbacks and has between 20,000 to 30,000 militants in the region. In September, Mattis said, "Getting rid of the caliphate doesn't mean you then blindly say, 'OK, we got rid of it,' march out, and then wonder why the caliphate comes back. How many times have we seen — look at even Iraq where they're still on the hunt for them. And they're still trying to come back."

Trump also faced significant backlash over the announcement to pull out U.S. troops from fellow Republicans.

"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."

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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."

For his part, Trump on Wednesday declared the terror group has been "defeated" and announced plans for a "full" and "rapid" withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria were underway. He also shared a video on social media, in which he defended his decision to leave Syria.

Trump on Thursday, however, appeared to walk back his claim that ISIS had been totally defeated, and suggested that other countries, including U.S. allies, will have to confront ISIS on their own.

"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," Trump said.

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"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," Trump added. "I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!"


Shira Tarlo

Contact Shira Tarlo at shira.tarlo@salon.com. Follow @shiratarlo.

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