Trump's Syria envoy says he wasn't consulted on troop withdrawal

Trump's Syria envoy says he wasn't consulted on troop withdrawal
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The Trump administration’s special envoy for Syria and the anti-ISIS coalition said Tuesday he was not consulted on President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE’s decision this month to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, special envoy James Jeffrey said he was not on a phone call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that preceded Trump’s decision but argued that he was “very thoroughly briefed on it.”

Still, pressed by Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe TRUST Act is a plot to gut Social Security behind closed doors Republicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment Bring on the brokered convention MORE (R-Utah) on whether he was apprised of Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria, Jeffrey said, “That specific decision, I was not [told] in advance.”

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Jeffrey defended the Trump administration to the several senators who were stunned that he wasn't consulted by arguing that former Presidents George W. Bush and Obama made decisions without him in Iraq, where he served as a chargé d'affaires and ambassador.

“In my current job, I feel that my views, through [Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process MORE], have been brought repeatedly and frequently and, I think in many cases, effectively,” he said.

Asked later by Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyEnvironmentalists, Oregon senators oppose DOT increasing transport of natural gas by rail Senate Democrat says he is concerned intelligence community is 'bending' Soleimani presentations Democrats conflicted over how to limit Trump's war powers MORE (D-Ore.) whether he would have advised the president on a plan to pull back without advancing the interests of Syria, Russia, Iran and ISIS, Jeffrey said he "would have tried."

“I don’t really know why we have someone with the title special representative for Syria engagement and special envoy to the global coalition to defeat ISIS if they are not consulted before the president takes the most significant single action affecting U.S. interests in Syria and the future of ISIS during his presidency, and I think it speaks to the utter chaos of American foreign policy,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyIran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Democrats request briefing on intel behind Trump's embassy threat claim MORE (D-Conn.) said.

Jeffrey was testifying at the first of three hearings scheduled this week on Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria and Turkey’s subsequent military offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces.

Trump’s decision has been widely criticized in Congress as leaving the Kurds to be slaughtered by Turkey. Ankara considers the Kurds terrorists connected to a Turkish Kurdish insurgency, but the United States relied on the Kurds to be the ground force in the fight against ISIS.

Tuesday’s hearing was happening as a five-day cease-fire negotiated by Vice President Pence with Erdoğan was expiring and as Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinDOJ releases new tranche of Mueller witness documents Russia's shakeup has implications for Putin, Medvedev and the US The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to lay out impeachment case to senators next week MORE reached a deal for Turkey and Russia to jointly control territory near Syria’s border with Turkey.

Trump has defended his decision as fulfilling a campaign promise to end “endless wars,” despite the fact that other U.S. officials have said the troops will stay elsewhere in the region. But lawmakers have said the withdrawal gave the green light for Turkey to invade.

On Tuesday, Jeffery said Turkey’s offensive was “not inevitable.”

He pushed back on senators’ characterization that Trump got “rolled” by Erdoğan and that the withdrawal led to Turkey’s invasion.

Romney asked Jeffrey if he was wrong to think that “Erdoğan basically said, ‘We’re coming in. Get out of the way,’ and America blinked.”

“It isn’t that we got out of the way because we were not militarily in the way,” Jeffrey replied, adding later that Erdoğan's offensive was “absolutely” unrelated to the withdrawal.

Jeffrey’s argument was that Trump’s initial withdrawal was just a couple dozen troops at two outposts that were tasked only with observing whether there was cross-border fire and that the subsequent withdrawal of the rest of the 1,000 U.S. troops in northeast Syria was a “prudent” defensive step after Turkey expanded its offensive.

Romney was unconvinced.

“Our president told President Erdoğan that we would be pulling out our troops. We did so, and they attacked within a matter of hours,” he said. “And you say those are unrelated, but it would seem to me there was a relationship.”

Pressed later by Murphy about whether U.S. forces were a deterrent to Turkey, Jeffrey said, “Absolutely not.” 

“I think our soldiers on the ground were led to believe something fundamentally different,” Murphy shot back. “So query as to how our soldiers who carried out the mission felt that they were betraying the Kurds if ultimately part of the reason for being there wasn’t to protect them against the very nation on their border that was seeking to destroy them.”