President Donald Trump used Twitter on Thursday to defend his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, a move made over the objections of defense officials and a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers.
"Getting out of Syria was no surprise," Trump said in one post. "I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer."
Now, however, he said it is "time to come home & rebuild."
Members of Congress, however, disputed Trump's contention that the Islamic State terrorist group known as ISIS has been totally defeated and said they would regroup after the U.S. withdraws the 2,000 or so troops it has now in Syria.
Critics also said Trump's decision guarantees that Bashar al Assad of Syria remains in power, benefiting Iran and strengthening Russia's foothold in the Middle East; they also said it would leave Kurdish allies vulnerable to reprisals from ISIS.
“An American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., an ally of Trump. He branded Trump's declaration that ISIS has been defeated as "fake news."
Graham said premature troop withdrawals in Iraq and Afghanistan created problems; he also invoked Trump's least favorite political leader, Barack Obama, in tweeting that “withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake."
Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed news of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, an idea he has long supported. Trump and Putin discussed Syria during their high profile summit in Helsinki this past July.
"The U.S. is there without backing from the United Nations or an invitation from the Syrian government," Putin told reporters at a news conference Thursday. "Russia is there at the invitation of the Syrian government."
Trump also discussed Syria in a phone call last week with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has targeted Kurdish fighters he regards as terrorists.
Critics described the withdrawal as a gift to Russia and Turkey. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said "the decision to pull out of Syria was made despite overwhelming military advice against it."
Democrats also protested. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said "an ill-informed and hasty withdrawal of troops will not only breathe new life into ISIS and other terrorist groups, but it will also cede America’s hard-fought gains in the region to Russia, Iran and Assad."
U.S. military leaders, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have spoken frequently of the need for U.S. troops to remain in the eastern part of Syria to help stabilize it and allow for peace negotiations to proceed.
There is not yet a timetable for the withdrawal of the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria.
In his tweet storm, Trump said: "Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing?"
The president claimed that "Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving" because "now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us." If ISIS "hits" the U.S., he said, "they are doomed."
But officials in those countries Trump named applauded news of the U.S. withdrawal.
"If the U.S. has decided to withdraw," Putin said, "that's good."