Trump administration officials are expected to be grilled about Syria by angry lawmakers from both parties Tuesday afternoon.
The president’s abrupt decision to order a withdrawal of troops in northern Syria has set off a flood of refugees from that country into neighboring Iraq. U.S. forces could also be observed withdrawing from Syria into Iraq on Monday.
A Turkey military operation targeting Kurdish forces began after President Trump announced he was withdrawing U.S. troops from northeast Syria. Trump’s decision came after a phone call with the president of Turkey.
Supporters of the Kurds, an ethnic minority residing primarily in areas of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran, believe that the U.S. withdrawal is a betrayal. One Syrian Kurdish leader warned that mass killings by Turkish forces could be next.
“We have always been promised by the United States, by U.S. officials that [we would] not be subjected to genocide … we only want them to keep their promises,” Ilham Ahmed, a president of the Syrian Democratic Council, said through a translator during a press conference with U.S. lawmakers Monday evening. “Turkey is attacking us currently and we are subjected to ethnic cleansing.”
It’s in the context of this fast-moving development that James Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative for Syria, is scheduled to testify before members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday afternoon.
Some of the Senate’s most vocal Trump Republican critics on this issue are on this committee, including Sen. Mitt Romney, who called Trump’s withdrawal “a bloodstain on the annals of American history,” and Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has departed from his usual role as a staunch Trump ally to criticize this decision.
On the other hand, the Senate panel also includes GOP Sen. Rand Paul, who has been supportive of the president’s move to withdraw troops.
Jeffrey will also testify Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a hearing titled: “The Betrayal of our Syrian Kurdish Partners: How Will American Foreign Policy and Leadership Recover?”
Large numbers of Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate have teamed up to rebuke the president’s foreign policy decisions in Syria. Last week, the House of Representatives voted on a symbolic resolution opposing the president’s withdrawal decision. The vote was 354 to 60, with most Republicans joining Democrats in a rare show of unity.
The withdrawal has sent lawmakers scrambling to react. One of the few tools that members of Congress have with regards to foreign policy is the drafting and enactment of sanctions. Multiple groups of bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate are writing sanctions now to punish what they see as Turkey’s bad behavior.
“This is an unusual issue in the sense it has brought the Congress together clearly over issue there is wide and deep appreciation and bipartisan support for not abandoning [Kurdish military forces],” Graham said Monday evening.
Graham is currently working with Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen to pass a legislative package which would sanction the Turkish economy and impose penalties on the Turkish government’s leadership.
Their proposal was moved directly to the Senate floor through a legislative procedure, and could be brought up for a vote later this week.
“We’re all in this together, pushing hard,” Van Hollen told reporters Monday evening.
The United Nations has estimated that at least 160,000 civilians have been displaced by the fighting. Despite a tenuous and temporary ceasefire announced late last week — one that Turkish officials referred to as an operational “pause” — aid officials are preparing plans to host up to 50,000 refugees who may seek to cross the border from Syria into Iraq.