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Trump causes havoc as his aides scramble to clean up Syria mess

The Trump administration is scrambling to contain the damage wrought by Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria, with top officials headed to Ankara as U.S. troops beat a hasty and chaotic retreat from their positions near the Turkish border.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is fighting a rearguard action of his own.

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In two media appearances at the White House on Wednesday, the president sought to justify his decision to pull American forces amid a Turkish onslaught that has been widely condemned by the leaders of both political parties and the international community. He even downplayed the Islamic State threat and derided America’s Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS as “no angels.”

“I view the situation on the Turkish border with Syria to be, for the United States, strategically brilliant. Our soldiers are out of there. Our soldiers are totally safe,” Trump said, contradicting the statements of his own government and putting him at odds with exasperated Republican allies on Capitol Hill.

As Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prepared to depart Washington to participate in a round of talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan aimed at negotiating a ceasefire, Trump minimized the incursion as a land skirmish that does not warrant American intervention and repeatedly insulted the Kurdish fighters being slaughtered by Erdoğan’s military.

“They’re not angels, if you take a look,” the president told reporters in the Oval Office of the Syrian Kurdish militias.

“You have to go back and take a look. But they fought with us, and we paid a lot of money for them to fight with us, and that’s OK,” he continued. “They did well when they fought with us. They didn’t do so well when they didn’t fight with us.”

Trump reprised those insults at a news conference, again asserting that the Kurds “are no angels, OK? Who is an angel? There aren’t too many around.”

The incendiary remarks represented perhaps the president’s most dismissive defense of his dramatic shift earlier this month in Syrian foreign policy, and come just days after the Pentagon’s announcement that Trump had ordered the evacuation of the last U.S. troops still stationed in the Middle Eastern nation.

“Our soldiers are not in harm’s way — as they shouldn’t be, as two countries fight over land that has nothing to do with us,” he said.

Facing a sustained Turkish assault following the American withdrawal, the beseiged Kurds have aligned themselves with President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus, which is backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump on Wednesday appeared unconcerned by the prospect of Moscow exerting new geopolitical influence amid the escalating military confrontation.

“Syria may have some help with Russia, and that’s fine. It’s a lot of sand. They’ve got a lot of sand over there, so there’s a lot of sand that they can play with,” he said, later adding: “I wish them all a lot of luck.”

Trump also claimed that the regional actors embroiled in the conflict share the United States’ commitment to stamping out ISIS, and charged that the Kurds loosed at least some of the hundreds of militants who escaped from a detention camp in order to apply pressure to the administration.

“Russia, Iran, Syria, and to maybe a slightly lesser extent Turkey, they all hate ISIS as much as we do, and it’s their part of the world. We’re 7,000 miles away,” he said, adding that it would be “very easy to recapture those people that probably the Kurds let go to make a little bit stronger political impact.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, however, warned in a prepared statement Wednesday that Turkey’s offensive “is undermining the campaign to defeat ISIS,” and Pompeo told the Fox Business Network in an interview that Trump remains “committed to ensuring that ISIS does not rise again.”

The president bowed Monday to bipartisan pressure from Congress to punish Erdoğan, signing an executive order imposing “powerful” sanctions targeting Turkey for its Syrian incursion and the subsequent Kurdish slaughter.

Though Democratic lawmakers remain largely unsatisfied by the White House’s economic penalties against a NATO ally, Trump insisted that senior administration officials are endeavoring to halt Turkey’s drive into Syria.

“We’re watching and we’re negotiating and we’re trying to get Turkey to do the right thing because we’d like to stop wars, regardless [of] whether Americans are in or whether they’re not in,” he said. “We want to see wars stop. That’s a very important thing on a humanitarian basis, we want to see that happen.”

But the president praised his own controversial directives as commander in chief, arguing that “the situation on the Turkish border with Syria” has proven “strategically brilliant” for U.S. interests, while acknowledging that he knew yanking American service members from Syria would all but assure the current tumult.

“President Erdoğan’s decision didn’t surprise me because he’s wanted to do that for a long time. He’s been building up troops on the border with Syria for a long time,” he said, maintaining that “I didn’t give him a green light.”

Source: Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories

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