White House officials stand by Syria withdrawal, sanctions delay amid bipartisan pushback

White House officials stand by Syria withdrawal, sanctions delay amid bipartisan pushback
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Members of President TrumpDonald John TrumpKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Kaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Louise Linton, wife of Mnuchin, deletes Instagram post in support of Greta Thunberg MORE's Cabinet, including Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Veterans group seeks Trump apology for comments on brain injuries | Pentagon says dozens of troops suffered traumatic injuries after attack | Trump unveils Space Force logo Commerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  Dozens of US troops suffered traumatic brain injuries after Iran missile strikes MORE and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinLouise Linton, wife of Mnuchin, deletes Instagram post in support of Greta Thunberg Mnuchin: US 'focused' on reaching trade deal with UK by end of year Commerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  MORE, on Sunday defended the decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria ahead of a Turkish military operation as well as a delay in sanctions against Ankara that have sparked bipartisan criticism.

Esper said the presence of U.S. troops near Turkey’s border with Syria would not have prevented Turkey’s advance into Syria.


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

Esper also pushed back against host Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceChris Wallace: If I'm Trump, 'I would not be especially pleased' with White House defense Trump: Senate should decide on witnesses; Bolton testimony poses national security risk Trump lawyer: Abuse of power, obstruction articles 'have not fared well' MORE’s characterization of U.S. troops at the border as a “tripwire.”

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

He insisted the White House remains committed to working against the Turkish offensive.

“I would say what we’ve been saying. ... We are doing everything we can to get the Turks to stop this egregious behavior,” he said.

Esper, meanwhile, confirmed on CBS's "Face the Nation" that the U.S. had withdrawn more forces than the 50 troops near the border between Turkey and Syria, saying the U.S. had pulled another 1,000 amid Ankara's advance.

“And so we find ourselves as we have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies, and it's a very untenable situation,” Esper told host Margaret Brennan.

Mnuchin also defended a delay in sanctions against Turkey on ABC’s “This Week.” Trump warned of the sanctions if Ankara treated Syrian Kurds, who aided the U.S. in the fight against ISIS, inhumanely.  

“Let me just say this is a complicated, developing situation. You have a NATO ally, on one hand, fighting against the Kurds, who were helping us with the fight against ISIS. We are in daily communications with Turkey, both at the Defense Department, the State Department, on very specific issues. We are ready to go on a moment’s notice to put on sanctions,” Mnuchin said.

Senators from both sides of the aisle also weighed in on Syria during the Sunday morning political shows.

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Collins walks impeachment tightrope Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial MORE (R-N.D.) told CNN’s Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperSteyer says 'grassroots organizing' in Nevada, South Carolina got him on debate stage Pentagon chief says he 'didn't see' intelligence suggesting Iran planned to attack four US embassies Ex-White House press, military officials call on Grisham to restart regular briefings MORE that Trump was faced with more than a “binary” choice and that had the U.S. remained in Syria, the president might have had to make a decision about possibly fighting Turkey, a NATO ally.

"I think the president at that point has a not so much a binary choice as a decision to make as to which friend, if you will, do we stand with in this circumstance?" Cramer said.

"I wish it had been different. I can tell you that. But I'm not sure the president had a lot of choices," Cramer said. "We can't be in the middle of every skirmish in the neighborhood."

Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenFox's Napolitano: There is 'ample and uncontradicted' evidence supporting Trump's removal from office Sen. Van Hollen releases documents from GAO investigation Democrats shoot down talk of Bolton, Hunter Biden witness swap MORE (D-Md.), who is sponsoring bipartisan legislation to impose sanctions on Turkey with Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Trump defense team signals focus on Schiff Trump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president MORE (R-S.C.), expressed frustration at the administration’s pace on “Fox News Sunday.”

“For God’s sake, what are they waiting for, right? People are being killed right now,” Van Hollen told Wallace.

“Our Syrian Kurdish allies are being killed right now. It looks like many of the ISIS detainees — there are about 10,000 fighters — are now possibly going to be able to escape. ... They [the White House] look ridiculous right now, so that’s why it’s important that the Congress move forward on this front,” he added.

And Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerPentagon exodus extends 'concerning,' 'baffling' trend of acting officials in key roles Republican group asks 'what is Trump hiding' in Times Square billboard Koch campaign touts bipartisan group behind ag labor immigration bill MORE (R-Ill.), an Air Force veteran, also blasted the withdrawal, saying that “we all know” a continued U.S. presence at the border would have prevented Turkey’s advance.

“To see this yet again, you know, leaving an ally behind, abandoning people that we frankly told that we were gonna be with is disheartening, depressing. Frankly, it's weak,” Kinzinger said on “Face the Nation.” “I don't see how it follows through on the president's promise, his biggest promise in the campaign to defeat ISIS because I think it is going to resurge.”

Former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisLawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Trump called top military brass 'a bunch of dopes and babies' in 2017: book MORE also warned about unintended consequences from the move, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the Turkish invasion had thrown the region into “disarray” and that a potentially resurgent ISIS would benefit from the chaos.

"Obviously, the Kurds are adapting to the Turkish attacks. And we'll have to see if they're able to maintain the fight against ISIS. It's going to have an impact," Mattis told Chuck ToddCharles (Chuck) David ToddGOP senator 'open' to impeachment witnesses 'within the scope' of articles Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial GOP senator, Chuck Todd spar over whether Lev Parnas should testify in Senate impeachment trial MORE on Sunday.

"The question is, how much?" he added.