WASHINGTON ― Top congressional Democrats ― and two high-profile Republican senators ― panned the U.S.-brokered deal in which President Donald Trump agreed to drop sanctions against NATO ally Turkey if it would pause its military offensive in Syria.
Though Trump called the the U.S.-brokered deal that went into effect overnight “a great day for civilization,” most of the shine seemed to come off as details revealed the deal heavily favored Turkey. Lawmakers from both parties criticized it as a non-solution to the wider crisis, and fighting between Turkey and Kurdish forces continued Friday.
Though some of Trump’s allies hailed the administration’s agreement, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio suggested in a series of tweets that it had only deepened America’s dilemma.
What would happen, Rubio asked, if Turkey came under attack from Iranian-aligned militias, the government of Syrian leader Bashar Assad or Russian forces in the region, thus invoking NATO’s mutual self-defense clause.
Beyond that, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “got everything he wanted” from the “supposed ‘ceasefire,” Rubio said. “Sparing lives is always good news. But doesn’t appear ‘cease-fire’ signals change in Erdogan’s goal.”
Vice President Mike Pence struck the deal with Erdogan in Ankara on Thursday. It requires Kurdish YPG forces to vacate a swath of territory in Syria along the Turkish border in exchange for Turkey pausing its offensive into northern Syria for 120 hours ― and then halt the fighting once the evacuation is complete.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a Politico interview, forcefully defended the agreement, brushed back accusations that the Kurds were sold out and said that despite reports of fighting Friday, he is “confident” a pause in violence will take hold.
Trump has been widely criticized for abruptly declaring U.S. troops would step aside for an expected Turkish attack on the Kurds, who had taken heavy casualties as partners with the U.S. in fighting Islamic State militants since 2016.
On Wednesday, 129 House Republicans voted with 225 Democrats to pass a resolution condemning the decision. In a joint statement Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump is “flailing” and that the deal was a “sham ceasefire.”
“The President’s decision to reverse sanctions against Turkey for brutally attacking our Kurdish partners in exchange for a sham ceasefire seriously undermines the credibility of America’s foreign policy and sends a dangerous message to our allies and adversaries alike that our word cannot be trusted,” they said.
The U.S.-brokered agreement, they added, would not address the possibility of ISIS members help in Kurdish-run prisons from escaping “and shows the President’s complete lack of strategy to defeat ISIS."
“To say that Turkey and Syria will guard the prisoners is outrageous and puts our homeland security at risk,” they said. “ISIS is still a threat, certainly now more than before President Trump gave Erdogan the green light to invade Syria.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called the agreement “far from a victory” and asked why its terms were not negotiated before Trump consented to withdraw U.S. troops. He also questioned why the White House did not consult Congress in advance on such an important matter.
“Given the initial details of the cease-fire agreement, the administration must also explain what America’s future role will be in the region, what happens now to the Kurds and why Turkey will face no apparent consequences,” said Romney, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a blood stain in the annals of American history.”
In a statement Thursday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said Trump shouldn’t get credit for trying to fix a problem of his own making. Engel and the panel’s top Republican are sponsoring sanctions legislation against Turkey.
“The immediate cause of this crisis was President Trump’s betrayal of our Kurdish partners, which set into motion a humanitarian crisis, a resurgence of ISIS, a strategic victory for Russia and Iran, and irreparable damage to America’s standing in the world,” Engel said.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.