Washington, DC – The United States House of Representatives voted 354-60 on Wednesday to condemn President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from northeast Syria, effectively clearing the way for Turkey‘s military operation against Kurdish forces there.
The bipartisan vote was a stark warning to the president that Congress does not support his abrupt decision to withdraw some 1,000 US special forces operating in Syria.
“Our credibility and our moral standing in the world has been put at risk by this president’s actions,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, ahead of the vote on the non-binding resolution.
“Congress in a bipartisan way is appalled by the failure of this president to stand with an ally in the fight against ISIS,” Hoyer told reporters at the US Capitol on Wednesday.
Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from northeast Syria left Kurdish fighters who were the US’s main ally in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) without US military support as Turkey launched a military operation in the region.
The House resolution opposes Trump’s withdrawal decision and calls on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to cease Ankara’s unilateral military operations across the border with Syria.
The measure also calls on the Trump administration to provide “humanitarian support” of Kurds “displaced by ongoing violence in Syria” and urges the president to work to restrain Turkey. Further, it calls for Trump to present a “clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat of ISIS”.
A similar resolution is also expected to pass in the Senate, where top Republicans have offered rare criticism of Trump.
Trump’s decision “is against all sound military advice,” Senate Republican Lindsey Graham said on Wednesday.
He added that if the US president continues along this path, US “foreign policy is in a very bad spot in the Middle East and to those who think the Mideast doesn’t matter to America, remember 9/11 we had the same attitude on [September 10], 2001”.
Separate from the resolution, committees in the House and Senate are preparing legislation that would impose economic sanctions on Turkey if Erdogan does not cease its military operations against the Kurds.
Those sanctions would go further than sanctions announced by Trump earlier this week.
Members of Congress worry Trump’s move will advantage Russia and Iran, which have supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and jeopardise the campaign against ISIL, Hoyer said.
Later on Wednesday, top congressional Democrats walked out a meeting with Trump on Syria, saying the US president had a “meltdown”.
“What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters.
Republican leaders said they were disappointed to see the Democrats cut the meeting short.
‘We are a fighting force’
Earlier on Wednesday, Trump disparaged the Kurds in remarks to reporters at a bilateral meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the White House and said the US has no interest in the historic conflict between Kurds and Turkey.
“They’re no angels. They’re no angels. Go back and take a look,” Trump said of the Kurds.
The fighting now is “between Turkey and Syria. It’s not between Turkey and Syria and the United States,” Trump said at a news conference with Mattarella. “I want to bring our soldiers back home. We are not a police force. We are a fighting force.”
Turkey and Syria need to “work out” their border, he said. “But we have got to get out of the endless wars.”
The Syrian Democratic Forces group in northeast Turkey is led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which Ankara and Washington consider a “terrorist” group, but the two countries diverge on the classification of the YPG.
Trump on Wednesday said he believes PKK fighters are more dangerous than ISIL. He did not elaborate.
Trump has dispatched National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien to Turkey to try to convince Erdogan to halt the military operation. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Ankara to meet with Erdogan, Trump said on Wednesday.
In a speech to parliament, Erdogan said Turkey would not halt its operation until Kurdish forces withdraw but agreed to meet with the US diplomats after earlier saying he would not.
In Washington, DC, Mattarella voiced concerns of Turkey’s European NATO allies.
“We are deeply concerned with Turkey’s offensive in the northeastern part of Syria,” Mattarella said through a translator.
Turkey’s assault has displaced civilians, caused casualties and is “offering new space to ISIS and its criminal activities, not just in the Middle East, but in other countries around the world.”
“We condemn what Turkey decided to do with no possible ambiguity,” he said.