Cornyn seeks to clarify remarks about 'ethnic cleansing' of Kurds, US troop removal

Cornyn seeks to clarify remarks about 'ethnic cleansing' of Kurds, US troop removal
© Aaron Schwartz

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCOVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal MORE (R-Texas) sought to clarify comments he made Wednesday about getting U.S. troops “out of harm’s way” if Turkey was attempting to “ethnically cleanse” the Kurds.

Cornyn explained his comments to reporters Thursday after a Dallas Morning News story with his controversial remarks was published. The former Senate Republican whip said he did not intend to imply he supported ethnic cleansing or that the U.S. gave permission to Turkey to attack the Kurds.

“I wasn’t very clear,” he told the newspaper. “If the US isn’t committed to stay in Syria, getting our troops out of harm’s way where they might be injured or killed during the inevitable conflict between the Turks and the Kurds was something I was concerned about, and I said it's not unreasonable to try to keep our troops out of harms way if we don't have any strategy or long-term commitment to stay there." 

The Texas senator initially told reporters from the Dallas Morning News on Wednesday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE’s move to take troops out of Syria was justified because of the Turkish attempts to “ethnically cleanse the Kurds.”

“If Turkey was planning on coming into northern Syria and trying to ethnically cleanse the Kurds, and U.S. troops were caught in the middle, I am not completely convinced that it was a bad idea to get them out of harm’s way,” he said to the Texas reporters. 

Cornyn spoke to the reporters two hours following Trump's announcement that he was ending the sanctions against Turkey, which were put in place in response to the country’s offensive into Syria against the Kurds. 

Democratic candidates for Cornyn’s senate seat next year blasted the senator saying he took a “cut and run” approach from the Kurdish allies, the Dallas newspaper reported. Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Manny Garcia called Cornyn’s initial comments “shameful.”

“After rationalizing ethnic cleansing, supporting a move to abandon our allies, and breaking with nearly every foreign policy expert, complicit John Cornyn has proven once again that he will stop at absolutely nothing to defend his partisan political allies in Washington, even if it means jeopardizing our national security,” he said in a statement obtained by The Hill.

The president’s decision to back troops out of Syria led Turkey to launch its offensive into the country against the Kurds, who had helped the U.S. fight ISIS. Several GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus New polls show tight races for Graham, McConnell Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing MORE (R-S.C.) and Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyFrom a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Tennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans NRCC poll finds McBath ahead of Handel in Georgia MORE (R-Utah) have criticized Trump’s move. Turkey has said if the Kurds retreat away from the border, it will not continue its attacks.