The Question Trump Republicans Must Ask Themselves

If they think Trump betrayed the Kurds, why do they still support him?

Senator Lindsey Graham
Veronica Cardenas / Reuters

Is it possible to believe that President Donald Trump is abandoning a vital ally to slaughter, that he is ensuring the rebirth of a genocidal terrorist group that threatens the United States, and that he ought to be the 2020 GOP nominee?

Republicans must now confront that question.

On Twitter yesterday morning, Senator Lindsey Graham lamented that “a disaster is in the making” in an area of northern Syria controlled by the Kurds.

The ethnic minority group helped to fight ISIS, destroy its caliphate, and imprison its surviving fighters, even as it feared aggression from Turkey. In return, the U.S. stationed troops alongside the Kurds, helping the group to jail ISIS fighters and deterring Turkish military aggression. But Trump ordered U.S. troops to leave Kurdish-held areas. And Turkey responded yesterday by launching an invasion.

“Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration,” Graham wrote. “This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS. I urge President Trump to change course while there is still time.”

Not everyone shares Graham’s beliefs.

There are Republicans who believe that the United States ought to get out of Syria, arguing that nothing is owed to Kurdish forces who were acting only in their self-interest all along, or that ISIS is defeated, or that Turkey is capable of keeping ISIS from reconquering territory, or that Congress never authorized the U.S. troop presence in Syria, or that asking American soldiers to risk their lives protecting Kurds in a faraway mission with no foreseeable end is unfair, or that the presence of Americans there heightens the risk of a great-powers war.

But Graham rejects all those arguments. How should the Kurds feel about Graham if he keeps supporting Trump anyway? How should they feel about Representative Liz Cheney, who holds similar beliefs?

“News from Syria is sickening. Turkish troops preparing to invade Syria from the north, Russian-backed forces from the south, ISIS fighters attacking Raqqa,” she wrote yesterday. “Impossible to understand why @realDonaldTrump is leaving America’s allies to be slaughtered and enabling the return of ISIS.”

She added, “This action imperils American security and that of our allies. Congress must and will act to limit the catastrophic impact of this decision.”

Senator Marco Rubio is appalled, too. “At request of this administration the Kurds served as the primary ground fighters against ISIS in Syria so U.S. troops wouldn’t have to,” he tweeted. “Then cut deal with Erdogan allowing him to wipe them out. Damage to our reputation & national interest will be extraordinary & long lasting.”

Rubio also wrote:

#Syria isn’t about neocons or hawks, it’s about reality. The Kurds were lead ground force against ISIS & currently hold 1000’s of ISIS killers in jail. Abandoning them is morally repugnant, stains our nations reputation & could lead to 1000’s of ISIS killers back on battlefield.

And earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, “A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime,” adding, “And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.”

So, according to these Republicans, Trump exploited an ethnic minority group, cut a deal ensuring their literal slaughter, damaged America’s interests, stained the country’s reputation, and risked putting thousands of its defeated enemies back onto the battlefield.

And yet, in all likelihood, Graham, Cheney, Rubio, and McConnell will support Trump for the 2020 GOP nomination, doing nothing to find a superior standard-bearer.

What does it say about their values and beliefs if even behavior that they regard as morally depraved and geopolitically catastrophic does not trigger a break with Trump? Nothing good.