BISMARCK — After President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of nearly all United States troops from northern Syria about a week ago, North Dakota’s U.S. senators said they were concerned for Kurdish allies in the region, who have proven loyal partners in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, widely known as ISIS.
Following Trump’s orders, Turkish forces under the direction of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan invaded Kurdish-held territory as part of a violent campaign to decimate the Kurdish population and create a so-called “safe zone” along the Turkey-Syria border. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, denounced Trump’s decision to pull out of the region, according to the Washington Post.
While they share a strong interest in standing by Kurdish allies and keeping American troops out of harm’s way, Sen. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer represent distinct viewpoints within the Republican Party.
Hoeven did not criticize Trump but said the U.S. should maintain a military presence in northern Syria with the goal of assisting the Kurds, stabilizing the region and preventing the regeneration of ISIS.
“We’ve got to keep a presence there and do it in a way to stop what Turkey’s doing,” Hoeven said.
Specifically, Hoeven said the U.S. should impose economic sanctions on Turkey and establish a NATO-supported no-fly zone over the region to prevent Turkish aerial bombing.
Hoeven also said he expected widespread congressional support for punitive measures against Turkey, and just minutes after his Monday, Oct. 15 interview with Forum News Service, the Trump administration announced targeted sanctions against five Turkish officials, according to the Washington Post.
Additionally, Trump called on Erdogan to implement a cease-fire and said tariffs on Turkish steel would be raised by 50%. Vice President Mike Pence announced that he and national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien would travel to Turkey to speak with Turkish leadership about halting the destructive offensive.
Cramer said he was not immediately on-board with Trump’s initial announcement that the U.S. would begin withdrawing troops from the region in January, but after a confidential briefing on the matter, he became “more comfortable” with the idea due to its more measured approach.
While he said “many people were surprised” by Trump’s most recent decision to quickly pull troops out of Syria, Cramer said it shouldn’t have been so shocking given that the president campaigned on ending American involvement in “endless wars.” The junior senator also mentioned how difficult it was to speak on recent developments since he has not yet been briefed on the most recent withdrawal.
Cramer defended Trump’s decision, saying the options on the table were likely not as simple or binary as is commonly discussed.
Given Erdogan’s long-standing desire to invade Kurdish-held territory, Cramer described last week’s onslaught as an inevitability. If Turkey had planned to invade despite U.S. presence in the region, Trump may have made the right call to pull troops out, the senator said.
“The conflict between the Turks and the Kurds was not created by Donald Trump,” Cramer said. “There’s a strong sentiment among many Americans that they’re sort of tired of fighting other people’s wars.”
Cramer acknowledged that dealing with the situation in Syria has been one of the greatest challenges since he has been a member of Congress. Both senators said they look forward to learning more about the recent developments upon returning to Washington this week.