Trump stands firm

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By De­bra J. Saun­ders Re­view-journal White House Cor­re­spon­dent

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump stood by his de­ci­sion to move U.S. troops out of harm’s way Wed­nes­day as Turk­ish forces in­vaded north­ern Syria.

“The worst mis­take the United States has ever made in my opin­ion was go­ing into the Mid­dle East,” Trump told re­porters dur­ing an event in the Roo­sevelt Room of the White House.

Trump then heaped scorn on his crit­ics, who he said have not had to meet face to

face with U.S. troops who have been wounded on the field of bat­tle. Trump re­called giv­ing out Pur­ple Heart medals at Wal­ter Reed Na­tional Med­i­cal Cen­ter last week.

“I get that we want to re­move troops and that it’s not our war,” re­sponded Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a for­mer Navy doc­tor and pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Is­lamic Fo­rum for Democ­racy. “How­ever, even one sol­dier in that area was pre­vent­ing Tur­key” from try­ing to wipe out Syr­ian Kurds, al­lies who helped U.S. forces de­feat ISIS.

Jasser, usu­ally a Trump sup­porter, faulted Trump for giv­ing Tur­key a “green light” to in­vade Syria as “Is­lamist hege­mony.”

Dur­ing an interview with Judy Woodruff of “PBS News Hour,” Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo de­nied that Trump gave Tur­key a “green light.”

“On the phone call on Sun­day night, it be­came very clear that there were Amer­i­can sol­diers that were go­ing to be at risk and the pres­i­dent made a de­ci­sion to put them in a place where they were out of harm’s way,” Pom­peo coun­tered.

Eco­nomic threat

For his part, Trump, who an­nounced Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan will visit the United States on Nov. 13, warned that if the Turk­ish leader al­lows his troops to com­mit atroc­i­ties against the Kurds, “I will wipe out his econ­omy.”

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., a usual Trump sup­porter and con­stant golf com­pan­ion, has tried to change Trump’s mind on the mat­ter.

“Most mem­bers of Congress be­lieve it would be wrong to aban­don the Kurds who have been strong al­lies against ISIS,” Gra­ham tweeted this week.

Gra­ham and fel­low Sen. Chris

Van Hollen, D-MD., quickly re­leased a plan to im­pose “se­vere” eco­nomic sanc­tions on Er­do­gan him­self, as well as other Turk­ish po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and en­ti­ties that sup­port Turk­ish en­ergy in­ter­ests.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi op­posed the de­ci­sion in a state­ment,

“The pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to with­draw U.S. forces from North­ern Syria is a deeply dis­turb­ing devel­op­ment that be­trays our Kur­dish al­lies who have been in­stru­men­tal part­ners in our mis­sion to erad­i­cate ISIS.”

When a re­porter asked Trump if the U.S. will ap­pear to be an un­trust­wor­thy ally in the fu­ture and if that will ham­per fu­ture for­eign pol­icy ini­tia­tives, Trump re­sponded, “Al­liances are very easy.”

A moral wrong

Bradley Bow­man of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies Cen­ter on Mil­i­tary and Po­lit­i­cal Power called Trump’s ac­qui­es­cence to Er­do­gan “morally wrong.”

The United States pro­vided air cover for the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces while Syr­ian mili­tia did the bulk of the fight­ing and dy­ing on the ground against ISIS, Bow­man said. Trump’s an­nounce­ment “un­der­cuts Amer­ica’s rep­u­ta­tion as a trust­wor­thy ally.”

“This is some­thing that peo­ple in the Mid­dle East will re­mem­ber for years, or even decades, to come. This is some­thing that Amer­i­cans will hear told back to them, 10,

20, 30 years from now,” Bow­man warned.

As Syr­ian mili­tia move to fight Tur­key, they will be less able to pre­vent the es­cape of some 11,000 ISIS ji­hadis held in Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties. “The most likely out­come is mas­sive numbers of ISIS mil­i­tants es­cap­ing and re­group­ing,” ac­cord­ing to the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies’ Aykan Erdemir, a for­mer Turk­ish law­maker.

Kilic Burga Kanat, re­search di­rec­tor for the Turk­ish think tank SETA, de­fended Trump’s ac­tions. “This is Trump’s po­si­tion from the very be­gin­ning, to pull out troops from end­less wars,” he told the Re­view-journal.

“I’m not sure what they mean be­trayal of the Kurds,” Kanat added, as the Turk­ish mil­i­tary will be fo­cused on Kur­dish mili­tia that ad­vo­cate for an au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish state.

Con­tact De­bra J. Saun­ders at dsaun­[email protected]­viewjour­nal. com or 202-662-7391. Fol­low @De­bra­jsaun­ders on Twit­ter.

Lefteris Pitarakis The As­so­ci­ated Press

In this photo taken from the Turk­ish side of the bor­der be­tween Tur­key and Syria, in Ak­cakale, south­east­ern Tur­key, smoke bil­lows from tar­gets inside Syria dur­ing bom­bard­ment by Turk­ish forces Wed­nes­day.

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