McConnell rebukes Trump over Syria withdrawal: "ISIS and al Qaeda remain dangerous forces"

"A precipitous withdrawal" will "increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup," McConnell warns

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published October 8, 2019 12:05PM (EDT)

President Donald Trump; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (Getty/Salon)
President Donald Trump; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (Getty/Salon)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., issued a rare rebuke of President Donald Trump, asserting that the commander-in-chief’s withdrawal from Syria "would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.”

After recalling the bipartisan resolution passed in the Senate in January which advocated for America’s continued military presence in Syria in order to combat terrorism, McConnell warned that although "the physical caliphate has been removed, ISIS and al Qaeda remain dangerous forces in Syria and the ongoing Syrian civil war poses significant security and humanitarian risks.” 

“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime,” he added. 

The highest-ranking Republican in the Congress also warned that if Turkey engaged in a conflict with Kurdish forces in Syria, it would “seriously risk damaging Turkey’s ties to the United States and causing greater isolation for Turkey on the world stage.” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s, an autocratic, not only advocated for Trump to pull American troops but also threatened military action against America's counterterrorism partners.

Only four Republican senators voted against a February resolution warning the Trump administration over the withdrawal of American troops from Syria — Ted Cruz of Texas, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Overall, the Senate voted 70 to 26 in favor of the resolution.

Trump has received rare criticism from his within own party since announcing Sunday that American troops would not be in areas of northeastern Syria when Turkey launched an offensive against Kurdish fighters there. The concern is that this will essentially betray the Kurdish fighters who allied themselves with the U.S. in the fight to defeat ISIS by leaving them vulnerable to retaliation by a hostile Turkish government.

One outspoken defender of Trump, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called into “Fox & Friends” Monday to blast the decision.

“This impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we’ve made — thrown the region into further chaos,” Graham told the cast of “Fox & Friends” during his appearance. “Iran is licking their chops. And if I’m an ISIS fighter, I’ve got a second lease on life. So to those who think ISIS has been defeated, you will soon see.”

Brian Kilmeade, the co-host of the president's favorite morning show, also echoed Graham’s views.

“The reason why our casualties were so low is because the Kurds did all the fighting,” Kilmeade said. “Now we’re saying, ‘OK, Turks, go wipe them out or force them out.’ What kind of message is that to the next ally that wants to side with us?”

Trump defended himself Monday by arguing on Twitter that “the United States was supposed to be in Syria for 30 days, that was many years ago. We stayed and got deeper and deeper into battle with no aim in sight. When I arrived in Washington, ISIS was running rampant in the area. We quickly defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate.”

He later added that “the U.S. has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory.”

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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