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Sen. Graham: Trump’s claim of ISIS defeat is ‘fake news,’ pulling troops is ‘stain’ on US

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, left, listens as then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies on the Defense Department's proposed fiscal year 2017 budget before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C., March 17, 2016. (Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz/Department of Defense)

In a late-night speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham railed against President Donald Trump’s decision to pull troops from Syria, calling the decision “disastrous” and a “stain on the honor” of the U.S.

The South Carolina Republican said the president’s claim, which Trump included in a video to his Twitter on Wednesday, that the Islamic State had been defeated was “fake news.” Graham said he’d just gotten back from a trip to the Middle East and knew for a fact that it was “inaccurate.”

Graham, a key ally of Trump, has taken a vocal approach as of late to combat some of the president’s decisions, most recently with how the administration handled Saudi Arabia and the regime’s role in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. He was part of a bipartisan chorus of lawmakers who objected to Trump’s decision and warned the president that it would lead to disaster and a new wave of Islamic radicalism in the Middle East.

The withdrawal of the more than 2,000 troops is based on Trump’s decision that the mission against ISIS is complete, a U.S. official told USA TODAY. Trump tweeted out a video statement in which he said U.S. “heroes” should be brought home because they have accomplished the mission of defeating ISIS. “Now we’ve won,” Trump said. “It’s time to come back … they’re getting ready; you’re going to see them soon.”

Military leaders, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in recent weeks and months have spoken of the need for U.S. troops to remain in the eastern part of the country to help stabilize it and allow for peace negotiations to proceed. Graham, speaking on the Senate floor, said he was introducing a resolution that would condemn Trump’s decision.

In his speech, Graham pleaded for the president to rescind his decision, explaining that a “true leader” is open to changing their mind when wrong. He said he’d spoken with members of the Trump administration, including Mattis, and came to the conclusion that the president’s decision, which he announced on Twitter, was “his alone.”

“Mr. President, I too want our troops to come home,” Graham said. “But I don’t want to tell the American people that we’re secure when I don’t believe we are.”

He said none of the officials he’s spoken with thought pulling troops out of Syria was a good idea and pleaded with the president to simply fire his advisers if he thought they were giving him poor advice.

“To those who say we have defeated ISIS in Syria, that is an inaccurate statement. They have been hurt, they have been degraded and I give the president all the credit in the world for changing our policies regarding the fight against ISIS, but I will not buy into the narrative that they have been defeated,” Graham said. “To say they’re defeated is an overstatement and is fake news. It is not true. They have been severely damaged but they will come back unless we’re there to stop them.”

He added the choice will have a ripple effect in the region and compared it to former President Barack Obama’s choice to pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Graham left Trump with a warning that the job of Congress was to provide oversight and threatened to make sure this decision is forever linked to the Trump presidency.

“This is a stain on the honor of the United States. I hope and pray the president will reconsider this. I know that every national security adviser understands that the time is not right to withdraw,” Graham said. “If he does not decide to reconsider, then it will be incumbent upon the Congress to speak and hold him accountable.”

Others, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted that the move was a “major blunder” and against the Pentagon’s advice. New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, called it a “dangerous decision” that would destabilize the region, endanger Kurdish allies and embolden America’s enemies.

“We’re leaving the Kurds at risk, we’re creating a vacuum, and we’re doing it in a way that puts Israel at risk” because of Iran’s presence in Syria, Menendez said.

But the decision was applauded by some, including Russia.

A foreign ministry spokesperson for Russia applauded Trump’s decision, saying it could help create “a real prospect for a political solution” in Syria, according to TASS, the Russian state-owned news agency.


© 2018 USA Today

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