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GOP senators criticize Trump over Syria comments and policy

Trump says Kurds are "not angels"

President Trump drew a strong and immediate response Wednesday from some Republican senators who took issue with his remarks dismissing the relevance of Turkey's invasion of Syria to U.S. interests. Senator Lindsey Graham, an ally of President Trump, criticized him in a tweet for saying that the conflict, which began shortly after Mr. Trump ordered U.S. troops to leave Syria, is not a concern of the U.S.

"The statements by President Trump about Turkey's invasion being of no concern to us also completely undercut Vice President Pence and Sec. (of State) Pompeo's ability to end the conflict," Graham wrote. Pence and Pompeo are traveling to Turkey today in hopes of convincing the country's leaders to strike a ceasefire deal with Syria.

Graham added, "I firmly believe that if President Trump continues to make such statements this will be a disaster worse than President Obama's decision to leave Iraq." Graham expressed dismay that in the future, the U.S. "will not have allies in the future against radical Islam, ISIS will reemerge, & Iran's rise in Syria will become a nightmare for Israel."

The president was asked at a news conference later Wednesday about Graham's criticism and retorted that Graham "would like to stay in the Middle East for the next thousand years — with thousands of soldiers and fighting other people's wars." He again said of the U.S. Kurdish allies, "they're no angels." "They fought with us, but we paid a lot for them to fight with us."

Mr. Trump then said he thinks Graham "should focus on the Judiciary (Committee) — like the Democrats...he ought to find out what happened with (former FBI Director James) Comey, what happened with (former FBI Deputy Director Andrew) McCabe... He argued, "That's what the people of South Carolina want him to focus on," noting that his pledge to withdraw troops from foreign wars was what helped him win the presidency.

Meanwhile, the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution Wednesday afternoon condemning Mr. Trump's decision to pull troops from northeastern Syria. The resolution passed 354 to 60, with 129 Republicans voting in favor. The only votes opposing the resolution came from Republicans, and four members voted "present."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also refuted Mr. Trump on the role the Kurds have played, calling the U.S. relationship with the Kurds "an extremely valuable alliance" that had been working "pretty well" in the fight against ISIS. He also said, "I want to express my gratitude to the Kurds. They were great fighters." He credited the Kurds with keeping Iran and Russia out of Syria and said they did "the heavy lifting." "They lost 11,000 people," he said. "They did the lion's share of the fighting and deserved our loyalty." 

"I hope the vice president and the secretary of state can somehow repair the damage," McConnell said.

But Utah Senator Mitt Romney, one of the most frequent Republican critics of the president, decried Pence and Pompeo's negotiations with Ankara as just trying to "cover ourselves and look like we're being tough." 

"The horses have left the barn," Romney said. 

Romney told reporters at the Capitol Wednesday that Turkey's invasion of Syria is taking place "because of the decision taken by the administration to pull our troops out precipitously without negotiations and a very clear understanding with Turkey as to what they would do and what we would do going forward." His remarks about this "very clear understanding with Turkey" indicated that he did not believe the administration was taken by surprise when Turkey, a short time after the president's phone call
[with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan], went forward with its incursion.

Now, Romney said, the administration is just "whining." He said that "there should have been a negotiation before we just pull our troops out and then go in whining and talking about sanctions." 

The Utah senator added sarcastically, "It's like, you've gotta be kidding. Of course this is what Turkey was going to do."

While Senator Marco Rubio called the trip being taken by the vice president "appropriate," he said "some of the damage [that] has been done is not reversible, and there's nothing you can do immediately to — I think everyone's struggling to sort of figure out what do we do now, given the set of circumstances we're facing."

He also said that the full Senate would be briefed on Turkey and Syria Thursday.

In an MSNBC interview, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, described Mr. Trump's initial call with Erdogan as a "sloppy, precipitous phone call that is going to end up killing a lot of people" and said that Mr. Trump basically "gave them the green light" during the phone call he had with Erdogan earlier this month. "I don't know how any leader could have made this type of decision, especially over a phone call." 

He went on to say, "It's hard for me to understand how a president could have such disregard for things that over time will come back to haunt us."

Reporting by Alan He

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