Republicans gave Trump a pass for years, but are now criticizing his abandonment of U.S. allies in Syria.
Republicans are lamenting Turkey's decision to launch a military strike against Kurdish forces in northern Syria this week, after Donald Trump effectively gave the country the green light to carry out the campaign.
Their criticism comes after months of largely deferring to Trump on foreign policy and resisting efforts to exercise oversight of his administration.
"A Turkish military advance into Syria threatens to halt momentum against ISIS, directly assaults our [Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces] partners, and could give the likes of al-Qaeda and Iran new footholds in the region," said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. "Turkey should stop immediately and continue to work with the US to secure the region."
McCarthy has defended Trump's foreign policy strategy in the past, most recently pushing back on criticism of Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump pressured the leader to investigate a political rival, allegedly in return for U.S. military aid to the region. The White House has insisted there was no quid pro quo at play during that call, though a whistleblower complaint has claimed that there was.
Trump announced on Monday that the United States would pull troops from northern Syria, leaving the Kurds, a U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS, unprotected. He reportedly made the decision without consulting military leaders or senior U.S. officials.
Retired Gen. Joseph Votel, the former head of CENTCOM, quickly slammed Trump in an op-ed, for "abandon[ing] our Kurdish partners."
On Wednesday morning, Turkey began military operations in northern Syria, forcing panicked civilians to flee.
Though Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed the operation would create a "safe zone," free from Kurdish militias, to which Syrian refugees who previously fled the country could return, a U.S. military official in the region told NPR the Turkish airstrikes were "more expansive than shaping a limited incursion."
"There is huge panic among people in the region," SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said after early reports of Turkish airstrikes.
Other Republicans have since criticized Turkey's actions as well.
"If media reports are accurate and Turkey has entered northern Syria — a disaster is in the making," tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). "Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration."
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) issued a equally strong rebuke. "News from Syria is sickening," she tweeted. "Impossible to understand why @realDonaldTrump is leaving America’s allies to be slaughtered and enabling the return of ISIS."
Trump has received bipartisan condemnation for abandoning the Kurds, but while Democrats have exercised oversight of his actions, including launching an impeachment inquiry into his call with Zelensky, many Republicans have tried to have it both ways.
Some of the same GOP lawmakers criticizing Trump's decision in Syria, for instance, have continued to defend his actions with regard to Ukraine.
In a Fox News appearance on Wednesday, Graham complained about the Kurdish issue but also vowed to derail the impeachment inquiry and attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
And despite his plea to Trump on Turkey, McCarthy this week continued to attack House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, who has led the investigation into Trump's actions.
Republicans by and large have mostly supported Trump's "America First" foreign policy vision as well. In addition to standing by his erratic back and forth with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, GOP lawmakers have stuck by Trump on a number of other issues, including his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy there, and his decision to block immigrants from Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States — all of which have been condemned by the global community.
In a twist on Wednesday, Trump himself issued a statement condemning the very actions his decision in Syria allowed Turkey to pursue.
"The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea," he said, adding that he expected Turkey to follow through on its promises to protect civilians and religious minorities, "including Christians."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.