GOP Senator Says Trump Was Right to Withdraw Syria Troops If Turkey Was Planning to Ethnically Cleanse the Kurds

Texas Senator John Cornyn has backed President Donald Trump's controversial decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, suggesting it was important to get them out of harm's way with a Turkish offensive looming.

Cornyn made the comments during a call with reporters on Wednesday, according to The Dallas Morning News. The call took place just hours after Trump agreed to lift sanctions he had imposed on Turkey in response to its invasion of Syria.

The Turkish operation has been widely condemned by Western nations. Hundreds have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes. The invasion—and the documented war crimes committed by Turkish forces and their proxy Syrian militias—have raised concerns that Ankara is planning to ethnically cleanse the area of its Kurdish population.

Cornyn suggested that if this was indeed the case, it would be better if American troops were elsewhere. "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 told reporters.

Turkey's "Operation Peace Spring" launched on October 9. It was designed to establish an 18-mile "safe zone" along the Turkish-Syrian border by clearing Syrian Democratic Forces—led by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG)—from the area.

Turkey considers the YPG an extension of the Kurdish Workers' Party, which has been fighting an intermittent guerrilla war against Turkey since the 1980s and is a proscribed terrorist organization in both the U.S. and European Union.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long sought to push the Kurds out of his border region, mirroring the 2018 operation that did the same in Syria's northwestern Afrin region.

The presence of U.S. troops in the Kurdish-held territory—also known as Rojava—prevented Turkey's invasion. The small force was deployed to support the SDF in the campaign against Islamic State militants, in which the SDF did the majority of the fighting and suffered some 12,000 casualties.

But earlier this month, Trump abruptly announced he was withdrawing American troops from the border region. Critics said this was a green light for the Turkish operation, which began just days later. Trump denied approving the Turkish action, and threatened to impose crippling sanctions if Turkey did not halt its advance.

A U.S.-brokered ceasefire agreed last week paused the worst of the fighting. Since then, most U.S. troops have abandoned their positions in Syria and retreated to Iraq, though Trump is reportedly considering leaving a small force in-country to guard valuable oil wells.

Trump's withdrawal has been criticized by figures across the political spectrum and the Western international community. It has been a strategic disaster for the U.S. and its allies, with America's most effective local ally attacked by a NATO member.

The SDF was forced to turn to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—who the U.S. had tried to topple in the early stages of the war in Syria—for protection, inviting his army and its Russian and Iranian backers into Rojava.

Assad, who is accused of a vast range of war crimes against his own people, has won back control of swathes of the country and several of the most important cities in eastern Syria with barely a shot fired.

Meanwhile, Russia has emerged as the major power player in the country. President Vladimir Putin met Erdogan in the Black Sea resort of Sochi Tuesday to hammer out Syria's endgame.

They agreed that Russian and Syrian forces would facilitate the Kurds' withdrawal from Turkey's desired "safe zone." Joint Russian and Turkish patrols of the area would then begin.

The U.S. had abandoned its allies, its bases and its position of influence in Syria. Trump has remained characteristically bullish, despite the widespread condemnation. On Wednesday he dismissed northeastern Syria as "bloodstained sand" and said America's rivals were welcome to take control of the area.

John Cornyn, Donald Trump, Syria, ethnic cleansing
This file photo shows a U.S. military vehicle on patrol on the outskirts of Tal Abyad, Syria, close to the border with Turkey, on September 8, 2019. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images/Getty