U.S. Markets closed

Graham Offers Turkey Sanctions After Trump Reversal on Syria

Anna Edgerton and Evan Sully

(Bloomberg) -- South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham introduced a bipartisan measure Wednesday to sanction Turkey in response to President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria, which left Kurdish fighters in Syria vulnerable to a Turkish invasion.

Graham, a Republican, is partnering with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen on a bill that would trigger sanctions unless the Trump administration “certifies to Congress -- every 90 days” that Turkey is not operating in Syrian territory. Turkish ground forces invaded Syria Wednesday.

The sanctions would target Turkish leaders including the president, vice president and ministers of defense, finance, trade and energy, as well as any foreign national who provides support to the Turkish military. The measure would also prohibit foreign entities from supporting Turkish energy production used by its armed forces and would require a report on Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s net worth.

The quick bipartisan deal reflects the broad outrage over Trump’s abrupt military reversal that abandoned the Kurdish allies who fought with U.S. troops against the Islamic State. While Republicans have disagreed with Trump on other matters of foreign policy, the measure offers concrete action to contain damage from a presidential action they have also publicly denounced.

‘Shamefully Betrayed’

Turkish armored vehicles and tanks crossed into Syria Wednesday after Turkish F-16s and artillery units targeted positions of Kurdish militants. Turkey has battled Kurdish separatists for years and was wary of the U.S. alliance with a Kurdish militia to fight the Islamic State.

U.S. lawmakers of both parties strongly opposed Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops back from Syria’s northern border where they were supporting Kurdish allies.

The move was criticized by the few GOP senators who are often quick to express concern about the president’s actions. Maine Republican Susan Collins called the withdrawal “terribly unwise” and said she fears “our allies the Kurds could be slaughtered.” Utah Republican Mitt Romney warned of “a tragic loss of life among friends shamefully betrayed.”

But Trump also received unusually sharp words from some Republicans who rarely cross him, like Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn.

“I condemn in the strongest possible terms any U.S. policy that will result in endangerment of the Kurds who have sacrificed so much blood and treasure alongside American forces,” Blackburn said in a statement Wednesday. “The U.S. does not abandon or endanger partners who have made significant sacrifices and contributions to protect our national security interests.”

Some of Trump’s staunchest defenders in the U.S. House have also criticized his decision. Representative Liz Cheney, a member of GOP leadership, called the withdrawal a “catastrophic mistake.”

Michigan Representative Justin Amash, who left the Republican Party over disagreements with Trump, pushed back on the president’s claim that pulling troops out of the region is really aimed and drawing down “endless wars.”

”Despite President Trump’s bluster about ending endless war, he’s not ending anything,” Amash said on Twitter. “Our troops aren’t coming home; a small number were moved so Turkey could escalate the war. And the president has expanded our role in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and kept us in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

After the broad pushback on the president’s initial announcement Sunday, Trump tweeted that he would “totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey” if Erdogan did anything Trump himself deemed inappropriate. Trump on Wednesday was asked about Graham’s sanctions bill, and he said he thinks it’s “okay” and he would “do far more than sanctions,” depending on Turkey’s actions.

Still, Trump didn’t condemn the Turkish invasion, saying he would act on his economic threats if Erdogan “doesn’t do it in as humane a way as possible.” Trump said he disagreed with Graham on the role the U.S. should play in longstanding conflicts in the Middle East.

“They have wanted to fight,” Trump said of Turkey and the Kurds. “And that is the way it is.”

(Updates with additional lawmaker quotes starting in 6th paragraph)

--With assistance from Daniel Flatley and Onur Ant.

To contact the reporters on this story: Anna Edgerton in Washington at aedgerton@bloomberg.net;Evan Sully in Washington at esully2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.