Oct 28 2019
This week, I went down to the Senate floor to talk about this President’s decision to abandon our Kurdish allies who have fought shoulder to shoulder with U.S. troops in the fight against ISIS.
Three years and four months ago, I stood in the same spot as Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and spoke about the progress that we were making in the fight against ISIS. When I spoke of that progress “we” made, I was referring to a coalition of over 60 nations, each of whom found it in their own self-interest to come together to fight the rise of ISIS and prevent it from establishing a deadly caliphate.
Among the forces who contributed the most were the Syrian Kurds. The Kurds are one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without a nation of their own to call home. Their 30 million people are largely divided up across four countries: Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. For decades, the Kurds have sought self-determination and basic rights—something that all of us want and deserve. But too often, instead, they have been victimized, attacked, and slaughtered. Over the past several years, Kurdish soldiers trained, and fought, against ISIS alongside U.S. soldiers as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. They put their lives at risk to stop ISIS from successfully establishing a caliphate from which to wreak even more havoc around the globe, including here in the United States.
In fact, Kurdish SDF fighters were the ones carrying out most of the ground operations while U.S. troops provided support. Their willingness to risk their lives and shed their blood likely meant that countless American lives were spared. Some 11,000 Kurdish fighters have been killed in combat while fighting ISIS. It is clear that the Kurds have sacrificed a great deal, and there are countless U.S. soldiers alive today because of that sacrifice.
Earlier this month, President Trump abruptly announced that he would be pulling the remaining U.S. coalition forces from Syria, effective immediately. He did not do so after thoughtful consideration of the risks involved to U.S. interests. He did not do so after consulting with our allies. To my knowledge, he did not consult extensively with our military leaders. Rather, he did so after a weekend phone call with Turkish President Erdogan. In the process, he left our Kurdish allies hanging out to dry.
As someone who has actually served this nation in uniform in time of war, I’ve served with coalition forces before. Two of the most important factors in building and sustaining a successful coalition are communication and trust. Our abrupt abandonment of Kurdish forces and their people will not serve to encourage other countries around the world to risk the lives of their soldiers and join a coalition led by America. In fact, it will discourage them. The decision to abandon our Kurdish allies isn’t only morally wrong. And it’s not only harmful to our credibility with allies around the globe. It is also a gift to several of our greatest adversaries. In his reckless decision to abandon the Kurds, President Trump has created, almost overnight, a power vacuum in which ISIS can regroup and wreak havoc again.
There’s been no shortage of decisions this President has made that I disagree with. But the decision to abandon our allies is one of the poorest examples of leadership that we have witnessed in the last three years. That’s why this week, I joined my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to introduce the Countering Turkish Aggression Act of 2019, which would levy immediate, serious sanctions against Turkey following their invasion of northeastern Syria and their slaughter of the Kurdish people and in the wake of an ISIS resurgence in Syria, it demands a strategy from the Trump Administration to defeat them and stabilize the region. These sanctions are stronger than the ones that President Trump imposed on Turkey this week—which he has already lifted. But even strong sanctions like those in our bill, if passed, would not solve the urgent crisis that President Trump created by abandoning our Kurdish allies.
During his campaign, President Trump often uttered this phrase: “I alone can fix it.” Well, for once, that might true.
Mr. President, after a single phone call with an authoritarian leader, you created this mess. Don’t turn your back on the Kurds, and give up the gains against ISIS that our servicemen and women, along with our allies, fought so bravely for. You alone can reverse this decision. I urge you to do so. That would be leadership. That would protect our national security. That is what the American people – and our allies – look to the President of the United States to do.