President Donald Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday that it is "not our problem" if Turkey invades Syria and slaughters America’s Kurdish allies, because they are "not angels."
“If Turkey goes into Syria, it is between Turkey and Syria. It’s not our problem,” the president said during a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Trump added that “the Kurds are much safer right now, but the Kurds know how to fight. And as I said, they’re not angels.”
The president also defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the region by discussing America's financial contribution to the war against terror.
“They fought with us," he said of the Kurds. "We paid a lot of money for them to fight with us, and that’s OK.”
After adding that he would not care if Russia chose to get involved in the conflict between Turkey and Syria, Trump concluded that “it’s not our border. We shouldn’t be losing lives over it.”
This is not the first time that Trump has disparaged the Kurds in order to justify effectively abandoning them to the Turkish government. Last week, the president defended his actions by saying that the Kurds “didn’t help us in the second world war. They didn’t help us with Normandy, as an example. They mention the names of different battles. They weren’t there."
The president’s Wednesday remarks were met with swift condemnation from one known Trump loyalist: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Graham tweeted that “I fear this is a complete and utter national security disaster in the making, and I hope President Trump will adjust his thinking." The president’s comments “completely undercut” efforts by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to convince Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to call a ceasefire in the region, he added.
Indeed, only hours before Trump’s comments, Erdogan said that he would not stop his military actions against the Kurdish forces unless they leave areas in their control along the Turkey-Syria border by Wednesday night, according to the Wall Street Journal.
After Trump announced his controversial decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the region, other Republicans joined Graham in condemning the decision. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that “a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime.” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine tweeted that “we are seeing the consequences of that terrible decision. If the reports of Turkish strikes in Syria are accurate, I fear our allies the Kurds could be slaughtered.”
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a member of the House Republican leadership and the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, added that “President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria is having sickening and predictable consequences . . . Congress must and will act to limit the catastrophic impact of this decision.”
In 2012, the future president opened two conjoined Trump Towers in the Turkish capital of Istanbul, according to Newsweek. And Erdogan has used Trump’s investment in those towers to pressure him on foreign policy before. After he ordered Trump’s name to be taken off of the towers following the president’s call for a Muslim ban in 2016, Erdogan eased up as Trump supported the Turkish despot’s crackdown against political opponents after an unsuccessful coup attempt.