Trump’s plan for Syria withdrawal weakens GOP unity

Trump’s plan for Syria withdrawal weakens GOP unity

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans have spent most of the past two years trying to limit public fights with President Donald Trump, either out of party loyalty or fear of being on the wrong end of a presidential tweetstorm.

But that show of unity was put to the test this week when Trump announced he would withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria in advance of an impending Turkish military operation against Syrian Kurdish militia fighters.

Senior Republican leaders like senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas all joined Democratic colleagues in publicly criticizing the idea, with Graham even going on Fox News to label the decision “short-sighted and irresponsible.”

But of all the challenges and headaches that the Trump presidency has created for Republican legislators, what made this issue the one that caused them to break ranks?

“It’s intense and it’s broader than I expected,” said Steven Cook, a Middle East specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s surprising given that we’ve seen how loyal Republicans have been.”

Cook said he believed many of the Republican critics were acting out of genuine concern for the repercussions on the ground.

“I think it’s fear of a return of the Islamic State more than anything else,” he said.

Personal loyalties toward a staunch U.S. ally and influence from U.S. military leadership have also played a role, Cook said.

“If the Republicans do listen to anybody, it’s the people in uniform,” said Cook, who said the Pentagon has been “deeply appreciative” of the role played by the Kurdish militia fighters in Syria.

With the help of massive American air support and special forces assistance, Kurdish fighters were the tip of the spear in winning back Islamic State-held territory, including weeks of brutal street-by-street fighting in the final IS strongholds.

“They were the guys on the ground doing a lot of the front-line fighting,” and keeping U.S. troops out of harm’s way, Cook said. “Thanks to them, U.S. troops didn’t have to do some of the heavy lifting. They saved American lives.”

Tamara Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, said domestic political considerations may have played a role as well. She speculated that some prominent Republicans felt uncomfortable defending Trump over the Ukrainian scandal that prompted a House impeachment inquiry.

“I think it’s not just Syria. I think this is about Republicans with a national spotlight feeling the need to show some daylight between them and the president,” she said. “Clearly they’re feeling some need to show they’re not in lockstep.”

Wittes also pointed out a frightening potential knock-on effect if Turkey is allowed to attack the Kurds: a mass prison break by Islamic State detainees. Currently militia members are manning a series of prisons in Syria containing thousands of hardcore IS fighters. Those guards would presumably rush to the front lines if their comrades faced the existential threat of the Turkish military machine.

“The only foreign policy issue that Americans really care about is terrorism and the fear of terrorism,” she said. “The fear of ISIS 3.0 is very tangible and something that speaks to Americans.”

Just Posted

Pumpjacks draw oil out of the ground near Olds, Alta., Thursday, July 16, 2020. A new report suggests the economic impact of the pandemic led to a massive increase in federal aid to Canada's oil patch. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta economy ‘still reeling,’ says ATB Financial

Alberta’s economy is still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and… Continue reading

Ella Stoner, five, is ready to cut off her hair and donate it to A Child’s Voice Foundation. (Photo by Lauren Stoner Photography)
Central Alberta girl to donate her ‘princess hair’ to A Child’s Voice Foundation

A five-year-old girl from Rimbey has never had a haircut before. Now,… Continue reading

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta adds 1,195 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Red Deer has dropped to 760 active cases

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr
Central Alberta MLAs comment on UCP members kicked out of caucus

A pair of central Alberta MLAs have commented on the two United… Continue reading

Contributed photo
Johanna Hannaford: Central Alberta designer offers inclusive clothing

By Stephanie Rhodes Local designer Johanna Hannaford’s inclusive clothing creations are smashing… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks' Zack MacEwen (71), Travis Boyd (72) and Jimmy Vesey (24) celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during third period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 15, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Big third period lifts Vancouver Canucks to 4-1 victory over Edmonton Oilers

Canucks 4 Oilers 1 EDMONTON — Matthew Highmore scored twice in the… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Canada’s vaccine rollout operation won’t miss a beat with new military leader: expert

DARTMOUTH — The sudden departure of the senior military officer in charge… Continue reading

Quebec Premier Francois Legault speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Quebec premier argues province has power to amend constitution in letter to Trudeau

MONTREAL — Quebec Premier François Legault has written a letter to Prime… Continue reading

A demonstrator stands in front of riot police officers during a banned protest in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in Paris, Saturday, May, 15, 2021. Marches in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were being held Saturday in a dozen French cities, but the focus was on Paris where riot police countered organizers who said they would defy a ban on the protest, ordered on the grounds that it risked turning violent. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)
Police fire tear gas on banned Palestinian march in Paris

PARIS (AP) — French riot police fired tear gas and used water… Continue reading

Photo by The Associated Press
NYC Pride parade bans police; Gay officers ‘disheartened’

NEW YORK (AP) — Organizers of New York City’s Pride events said… Continue reading

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

WAYNE, Alta. — Built during the First World War, it survived the… Continue reading

A letter from a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 is shown in an undated handout photo. A team of researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to solve the mystery of whether a letter in a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 was indeed from a young victim of Titanic shipwreck or simply a hoax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, N. Beaudry, UQAR *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Real or hoax? Quebec scholars probe mystery letter allegedly from Titanic passenger

MONTREAL — Researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to… Continue reading

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau takes part in a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication between the federal Transport Department and the Canadian Transportation Agency regarding passenger refunds throws into question the independence of the CTA, an arm’s-length body. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Emails reveal close communication between government, transport regulator on refunds

OTTAWA — Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication… Continue reading

Most Read