Political News

Lindsey Graham says Trump's Syria statements emboldened ISIS

Posted January 16, 2019 1:55 p.m. EST

— Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday that he is concerned President Donald Trump's statements about Syria have emboldened ISIS and called on the President to rethink his decision to withdraw US troops from the country after the terror group claimed responsibility for a deadly explosion that killed US service members in the city of Manbij.

Graham, who was a harsh critic of Trump's plans to bring home US troops from Syria when the decision was announced last month, interrupted the confirmation hearing for Attorney General nominee William Barr to weigh in on the attack.

"My concern, by the statements made by President Trump, is that you set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we're fighting. You make people we're trying to help wonder about us. And as they get bolder, the people we're trying to help are going to get more uncertain. I saw this in Iraq. And I'm now seeing it in Syria," he said.

"Every American wants our troops to come home, but I think all of us want to make sure that when they do come home, we're safe," he added.

Wednesday's attack comes less than a month after Trump announced that US troops would withdraw from Syria.

In making his announcement, Trump declared in a video released on Twitter: "We have won against ISIS. We've beaten them and we've beaten them badly. We've taken back the land and now it's time for our troops to come back home."

Following that announcement, Graham went to the White House to discuss the issue of Syria with Trump and suggested at the time that the President agreed to re-evaluate plans to immediately pull all US troops from the country.

Still, Graham said, Trump remained committed to bringing American servicemen and women home, even as he continues to weigh the greater regional dynamics. He told CNN later in the day that the President had not reversed his Syria orders.

"After discussions with the President and (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph) Dunford, I never felt better about where we are headed. I think we're slowing things down in a smart way," the South Carolina Republican told reporters at the White House, where he'd just sat for lunch with the President. "But the goal has always been the same. To be able to leave Syria and make sure ISIS never comes back."

However, Graham's comments following Wednesday's attack suggest he is much less optimistic about Trump's plans for Syria moving forward.

"I would hope the President would look long and hard of where he's headed in Syria. I know people are frustrated, but we're never going to be safe here unless we're willing to help people over there who will stand up against this radical ideology," he said.

Graham was not the only prominent lawmaker to urge Trump to reconsider plans for withdrawing US troops from Syria following Wednesday's deadly explosion.

"Today's deadly bombing targeting our troops in Syria is a reminder that ISIS still has the capacity to carry out attacks. I strongly urge the President to forcefully respond and ensure we do not withdraw our troops until ISIS is completely destroyed," Texas Republican and ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Michael McCaul said in a statement.

"However, this cannot be America's responsibility alone. We must continue to work with our allies to help vanquish this dangerous enemy. Allowing ISIS to regroup will inspire new radicals to join their cause and invite more violence and chaos across the Middle East," he added.

Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed those concerns and called on the Trump administration to clearly articulate its plan to combat terrorism in the region long term.

"Today's bombing, which took place in a Syrian city patrolled by U.S.-backed forces, is a stark reminder that the Trump Administration needs a clearly developed and articulated strategy to secure the gains we have made in the fight against terror that includes those on the frontlines of this ongoing fight as well as our diplomatic and development corps," he said.

"The United States must do more to work with our allies to develop a comprehensive approach that secures our long-term interests in the region," Menendez added.

The US has about 2,000 troops in Syria, with no specific date for their withdrawal. Last week, the US began withdrawing some military ground equipment from Syria, according to an administration official with direct knowledge of the operation.