Trump defends Syria move, doesn’t want US troops in Mideast

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump lashed out Wednesday over sharp bipartisan criticism of his decision to pull back U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, saying he is focused on the “BIG PICTURE” that does not include American involvement in “stupid endless wars” in the Middle East.

“Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years. USA should never have been in Middle East,” Trump said in a series of morning tweets. “The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!”

Turkey launched its offensive Wednesday against Kurdish fighters in Syria, who have helped the U.S. against the Islamic State. Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists, and Trump’s decision to pull back U.S. troops leaves them vulnerable to the military onslaught.

Trump’s decision is being condemned by some of his staunchest Republican allies.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close Trump ally, stepped up his criticism of the president Wednesday, telling “Fox & Friends” that if Trump “follows through with this, it would be the biggest mistake of his presidency.”

In a series of tweets, Graham urged prayers for “our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration,” adding, “This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS.”

Trump defended his unpopular decision, arguing on Twitter that “GOING INTO THE MIDDLE EAST IS THE WORST DECISION EVER MADE IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY!” He said the U.S. went to war under a “false & now disproven premise, WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. There were NONE!”

Trump said he is “slowly & carefully” bringing home “our great soldiers & military,” in line with his campaign promise to do so.

He added: “Our focus is on the BIG PICTURE! THE USA IS GREATER THAN EVER BEFORE!”

But the U.S. military has kept a decades-long focus on the Middle East as part of a strategy of stopping or minimizing security threats before they spread to American and allied shores.

“Turkey’s military offensive into northeastern Syria highlights my grave concerns about the U.S. withdrawal from the region. The Trump Administration is abandoning our Syrian Kurdish allies who, in the face of the Turkish military campaign, may be forced to turn to the Assad regime for protection,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.

“The U.S. withdrawal further emboldens Iranian proxies in the region and enables the escape of thousands of ISIS fighters who are currently held by Kurdish forces but remain determined to attack the West. Turkey’s decision to launch its military operation today is a direct result of President Trump’s failure to stand up for our partners and interests in the region – a move that calls into question the credibility and reliability of the United States.”

As a further sign that the military does not share Trump’s view that the fight against the extremists is over, a press release Wednesday by the U.S.-led military coalition combating IS highlighted recent battlefield gains. It concluded by saying that “removing” IS fighters, weapons and bomb materials “remains a top priority” as the group “continues to plot attacks against innocent civilians and our partners throughout Iraq and northeast Syria.”

The U.S. has about 1,000 troops in Syria and about 5,200 in neighboring Iraq.

Trump has long criticized President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, but the subsequent rise of extremist groups like the Islamic State has convinced many national security officials, and lawmakers such as Graham, that a precipitous U.S. troop withdrawal from the region would leave the U.S. and its allies even more vulnerable to extremism.

Trump also claimed the U.S. has spent $8 trillion “fighting and policing” in the Middle East, up from the $7 trillion figure he has cited numerous times.

Trump is using an inflated estimate on the cost of wars and referring in part to predicted costs going decades into the future, not money actually spent. Some of the spending also reflects his policy decisions he made since taking office nearly three years ago.

Graham said Congress “will push back” against Turkey. He had said earlier this week that he was working on a bipartisan bill to sanction Turkey if they invade Syria, but he did not mention the proposal during Wednesday’s interview.

“We’re not giving Turkey a green light in Congress and we’re not going to abandon the Kurds,” he said. “If the President does so, we won’t.”

Trump announced Tuesday that he and Erdogan will meet at the White House on Nov. 13.

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