Trump’s Syria Decision ‘Rattled the World,’ Graham Says

(Bloomberg) -- Senator Lindsey Graham said President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria “rattled the world,” was opposed by the president’s own national security team and must be reconsidered.

Trump’s Syria Decision ‘Rattled the World,’ Graham Says

“There’s growing bipartisan support to ask the president to reverse course and to have a conditions-based withdrawal,” said Graham, a South Carolina Republican and frequent Trump ally who is influential on foreign policy, at a bipartisan news conference.

Graham said Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told him such a withdrawal was premature.

"I think his entire national security team has expressed concerns about withdrawing now," Graham said, saying he has spoken with the cabinet secretaries and National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Mattis hasn’t discussed the decision publicly. Pompeo said in an interview on the Laura Ingraham Show Thursday that the main reason U.S. troops were in Syria was to “take down the caliphate,” a process that was “at the very tail end of completion.” He denied that Trump’s decision was a surprise to him, though he didn’t say whether he agreed with the president’s call.

Trump Response

Trump attacked Graham in a tweet after the news conference.

“So hard to believe that Lindsey Graham would be against saving soldier lives & billions of $$$” Trump wrote. “Why are we fighting for our enemy, Syria, by staying & killing ISIS for them, Russia, Iran & other locals? Time to focus on our Country & bring our youth back home where they belong!”

Trump on Wednesday declared victory over the Islamic State terrorist group and ordered a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, a sharp reversal of American policy that appeared to take the Pentagon by surprise and leave America’s Kurdish allies in the lurch.

Graham was joined at the news conference by Senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Armed Services panel.

Graham said Mattis told him that “the time was not right to leave," and expressed concern about what would happen to U.S. Kurdish allies, as well as the foreign fighters who’ve been captured.

"He asked me, ‘What are we going to do with these prisoners?’ These are 700 approximately foreign fighters and they’re probably going to go back to the fight."

Graham said Mattis told him "that ISIS had been hurt badly, that the change in strategy to be more aggressive has paid off but they are not defeated and that a repeat of Iraq is very likely."

Joined by Democrats

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump said Wednesday morning on Twitter.

The announcement left key details unanswered -- such as a timetable for withdrawal, whether all troops would be pulled out and whether airstrikes would continue. U.S. lawmakers said the decision leaves Syria’s future in the hands of Russia and Iran, allies of President Bashar al-Assad whose intervention averted his potential defeat in a conflict that started more than seven years ago.

Menendez said the decision helped Iran and Russia and undermined Israel. And he said the decision to abandon the Kurds who fought alongside U.S. troops would have global implications.

"We send a global message: Fight with us, but when we’re finished with you, we use you, we throw you away," he said.

Graham is trying to get Senate signatures on a resolution urging the president to reconsider.

One who won’t be signing: Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, who has been urging Trump to pull out from Syria.

"I am happy to see a President who can declare victory and bring our troops out of a war," the Kentucky Republican tweeted.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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