Defense chief defends Trump decision on Syria under questioning from Chris Wallace

Defense chief defends Trump decision on Syria under questioning from Chris Wallace
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Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperAmazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court Trump holds chummy meeting with Turkey's Erdoğan Overnight Defense: Pentagon says Syrian oil revenue going to Kurdish forces | GOP chair accuses Dems of using Space Force as leverage in wall fight | Dems drop plans to seek Bolton testimony MORE defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria during an interview with Fox News's Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceChris Wallace: Taylor testimony 'very damaging to President Trump' Republicans, Democrats brace for first public testimony in impeachment inquiry Intelligence panel Democrat: 'I think we will end up calling' some witnesses on GOP list MORE, insisting that Turkey was ready to invade the country to attack Kurdish forces regardless of U.S. actions.

In the face of questioning from Wallace, who suggested Turkey might not have gone through with the offensive if Trump had not removed U.S. troops, Esper said the U.S. could not have prevented it.

“I think they were fully committed,” Esper said of Turkey. “We are not going to go to war, another war in the Middle East, against Turkey. ... That’s not what we signed up for.”

Wallace asked whether the troops could have served as a tripwire and suggested that Turkey would not have started the incursion if Trump had not announced the move to remove them.

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Esper said U.S. troops should not be likened to a tripwire.

“I’m not one to ... classify them as a tripwire and sacrifice them, if you will,” he said.

“Well, you only sacrifice them if Turkey goes ahead. ... Maybe we would've stopped them,” Wallace countered.

Esper responded that Turkey was determined to press into Syria no matter what.

Turkey launched its offensive just days after Trump announced U.S. troops would be leaving. When he made the announcement, he said it was because Turkey intended to launch an incursion into the area.

In the face of condemnations of the decision by GOP lawmakers, Trump has said it is not right for the U.S. to take part in endless wars in the Middle East.

Esper acknowledged bad behavior by Turkey.

“I think Turkey, the arch of their behavior over the past several years has been terrible. ... We see them doing all these things that, frankly, concern us,” he said of the NATO ally.

Asked how he would respond to contentions by Kurdish leaders that the U.S. exit from northern Syria is “leaving us to be slaughtered,” Esper responded, “I would say what we’ve been saying. ... We are doing everything we can to get the Turks to stop this egregious behavior.”

“As I said to them, they should not mistake our restraint for weakness. If they do and do something that would strike our interests of our allies, we will respond,” he added.