Mike Pompeo: "We've accomplished a significant part of our mission" in Syria

On Sunday Trump's secretary of state defended the president's controversial withdrawal from Syria

By Matthew Rozsa

Published October 20, 2019 12:00PM (EDT)

 (Getty/Patrick Semansky)
(Getty/Patrick Semansky)

On Sunday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended President Donald Trump's controversial withdrawal from Syria, telling ABC's George Stephanopoulos that "the president believes we've accomplished a significant part of our mission."

After describing the humanitarian tragedy that has occurred in Syria since the rise of the terrorist group ISIS in that country, Pompeo told Stephanopoulos that "this administration came in and worked seriously alongside the SDF forces and our allies as well to build out a counter-ISIS coalition to take down that caliphate." He added that Trump believes "we've accomplished a significant part of our mission and he wants our folks to come home, and we're beginning to work on that." Pompeo also noted that he and Vice President Mike Pence had traveled to Turkey last week and successfully negotiated a five-day ceasefire, convincing Turkish President Recep Erdogan to temporarily cease hostilities against America's allies in the region, the Syrian Kurds.

Stephanopoulos then asked Pompeo about the criticism from the Kurdish commander in the region and many of Trump's own Republican allies that the sudden withdrawal had betrayed the Kurds who had fought with the United States against ISIS.

"I'm proud of the work that our team has done under President Trump's leadership, not only encountering ISIS in Syria -- you know, George, Syria's been a mess for an awful long time, but encountering ISIS all around the world," Pompeo said. "We've been serious about it. We've been thoughtful. We've been strategic. And we will continue to make sure that we take the primary effort, which is to make sure we keep the American people safe from the threats from radical Islamic terrorism wherever we find it."

After his unexpected decision to pull American troops out of Syria, Trump has attempted to counter the image that he has emboldened ISIS and Turkey's totalitarian government while betraying America's allies. Last week he released a letter that he wrote to Erdogan in which he urged his counterpart to not "be a fool" or "a tough guy" and said that "you don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will."

Many Republicans had harshly criticized the president's policy, particularly after he told Oval Office reporters on Wednesday that it is "not our problem" if Turkey invades Syria and slaughters the Kurds. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., swerved from his usual loyalty to the administration by tweeting that "I fear this is a complete and utter national security disaster in the making, and I hope President Trump will adjust his thinking."

After Trump made his initial announcement to withdraw from Syria, 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." His views were echoed by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who 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."

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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