Trump smacks down Graham after latest Syria broadside
President Donald Trump on Wednesday lashed out at Sen. Lindsey Graham, marking the latest salvo in the pair’s clash over Trump’s sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria.
“Lindsey Graham would like to stay in the Middle East for the next thousand years with thousands of soldiers fighting other people's wars. I want to get out of the Middle East,” Trump charged during a news conference at the White House alongside Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
Trump and Graham have been engaged in a war of words for the last week and a half over Trump’s abrupt decision and his subsequent defenses, with Graham accusing the president of essentially helping facilitate the revival of the Islamic State terrorist group. Trump's decision prompted an across-the-board backlash, paving the way for Congress to formally rebuke the president for the move.
The tensions between the two men seemed to recede in recent days with Trump’s announcement that he would slap Turkey with sanctions over the offensive and with his decision to send a delegation headed by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to make the case for a ceasefire to Turkey’s president in person. But Trump reignited the feud Wednesday morning when he claimed the conflict "has nothing to do with us."
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Trump also asserted that Kurdish fighters, who allied with the U.S. and did a great deal of the fighting to defeat ISIS over the last half decade, were “not angels.”
That prompted a few barbs from Graham, which Trump was then asked about at the later news conference.
"I hope President Trump is right in his belief that Turkey’s invasion of Syria is of no concern to us, abandoning the Kurds won’t come back to haunt us, ISIS won’t reemerge, and Iran will not fill the vacuum created by this decision," Graham said Wednesday. "However, 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."
And in a tweet, Graham said that Trump's apparent indifference toward the Kurds "completely undercut" Pence and Pompeo on their impending trip to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hampering their "ability to end the conflict."
“I think Lindsey should focus on Judiciary. He ought to find out about what happened with Comey, what happened with McCabe, Lisa, what happened with Peter Strzok, what happened with President Obama, what happened with Brennan,” he said, referring to a cast of his favorite political punching bags who played a role in the Russia investigation.
“That's what Lindsey ought to focus on,” he continued. “That's what the people of South Carolina want him to focus on. The people of South Carolina don't want us to get into a war with Turkey, a NATO member, or with Syria.”
Trump brandished his political bona fides as proof, arguing that he knew South Carolinians wanted to see troops return to the U.S. because “I won an election based on that. Whether it's good or bad, that's the way it is. If you look at this country, I'd be willing to bet anything — political instinct — that's what the country wants.”
Moments later, a defiant Graham fired back: “I will not be quiet, I will do everything I can to help the president get to a good spot, but if we do not leave some residual forces behind to partner with the Kurds, ISIS will come back.”
Calling Trump's swerve on Syria "the biggest mistake of his presidency," Graham then implored the president to just listen to his military advisers.
“Here’s what I would tell the president: You’re doing this against sound military advice. Forget about me, listen to your own people. You’re not,” he said.