WASHINGTON — Sen. Ben Sasse wants President Donald Trump to reconsider his Syria policy after pulling back American troops and effectively clearing the way for Turkey’s ongoing military offensive against the Kurds.
The Nebraska senator was among the first Republicans to question the president’s move earlier this week, saying it would result in the slaughter of American allies, including women and children.
Sasse issued a fresh statement Thursday citing past Kurdish help battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
“The Kurds — including many of the few remaining Christians in Syria — stood alongside the U.S. in our fight against ISIS, and they’re still guarding thousands of dangerous ISIS prisoners right now,” he said. “(Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan is a bad guy, and I continue to hope our President reconsiders this decision.”
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., provided a written statement expressing concern about Turkey’s actions and praising the Kurds as invaluable partners against the Islamic State. But he did not fault Trump for the situation.
And Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., declined to say whether he supports the troop pullback.
“America cannot keep fighting other people’s wars — but we must proceed with great caution in exiting this messy neighborhood to prevent the horror of ISIS 2.0, potential Turkish over-aggression and a destabilization that endangers religious minorities,” Fortenberry said in a statement.
He has offered a resolution that would express the sense that U.S. assistance to minority communities in the area be combined with a plan for local security.
State Sen. Kate Bolz, meanwhile, stated plainly that she is against the withdrawal. Bolz recently announced that she’s seeking to challenge Fortenberry in 2020.
She said in a statement that the decision to withdraw is a morally indefensible abandonment of the Kurds, one that will destabilize the region and possibly allow the Islamic State to reestablish a foothold in northern Syria.
“I stand with Republican and Democratic leaders in opposition to withdrawal,” Bolz said. “The Kurds fought valiantly as our allies and defeated America’s number one enemy, Islamic extremists.”
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., noted that he worked with Kurds while serving in Iraq and said they are among the United States’ most trusted allies.
“We have an obligation to be very thoughtful about how we press forward with them,” he said.
The Omaha-area congressman said some U.S. military presence is needed in Syria and pointed to the rise of the Islamic State after American troops left Iraq under President Barack Obama.
But Bacon also said Trump is correct in his assessment that many Americans are weary of war.
“I think we’ve learned a minimal presence is needed, but it’s going to take some convincing for the American people,” he said.
Bacon faces several potential Democratic challengers next year, Ann Ashford and Kara Eastman among them.
Ashford released a statement referring to the withdrawal as “a frightening new low” for the Trump administration.
“The Kurds are now left to be massacred by the Turks, while the American people watch and can do nothing to stop it,” she said. “I think Congressman Bacon, a retired Air Force General, needs to condemn this decision by the White House, and if it’s not too late, do something to stop this.”
Eastman objected to Trump’s decision as well, saying it will result in the deaths of innocents.
“I would not have pulled the troops, no, because I believe that we are endangering the lives of our allies,” she told The World-Herald.
Eastman called for more resources at the State Department and said the Trump administration has practiced dysfunctional diplomacy in pursuit of a haphazard foreign policy.
“We should all be terrified by the way that the president is acting,” she said.
Bacon responded by saying that it’s a complicated situation and that simply condemning the troop withdrawal ignores the reality on the ground — that an attack by Turkey was imminent and the small number of U.S. troops there were vulnerable.
“We have 50 troops there,” he said. “What are you going to do, leave them in the middle of that?”
But Bacon did criticize Trump for his words and tone, saying the president is making a mistake by not taking a harder line with Turkey and declaring that the U.S. will back the Kurds.
Bacon has joined a group of Capitol Hill colleagues offering legislation that would punish Turkey with economic sanctions.
Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne of Iowa said in a statement that the administration’s foreign policy is being “conducted by tweet,” which is undermining credibility with allies in the region.
“The U.S. is a leader in countering terrorism and violent extremism,” she said. “Outsourcing these efforts to others in the region is shirking our responsibility and ability to ensure our own national and international security.”
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, has said that America cannot abandon the Kurds.
“It’s in America’s interest to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS and to maintain peace and security in the region — I’m troubled this departure will take us further from that goal,” she wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said this week that he has some concerns about protecting allies in the region and that American support for Kurds should continue. But he also highlighted Trump’s position as a presidential candidate.
“President Trump campaigned on ending wars and won,” he said in a statement. “As president, he is the commander-in-chief with the authority to make this decision.”