Posted: 4:31 pm Wednesday, December 19th, 2018
By Jamie Dupree
Amid criticism from stunned Republicans in the Congress, the White House on Thursday defended President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would pull U.S. military forces out of Syria, though a top official was unable to give reporters any details of when the withdrawal of American troops would take place.
“The timeline is being designed,” a senior administration official told reporters on Thursday afternoon, referring questions on specifics of the withdrawal to the Pentagon.
Told by reporters that the Pentagon was referring questions about that subject to the White House, the official said there were no details to offer on the withdrawal details.
“It’s not that I’m not telling you, it’s that I don’t know, quite frankly,” the senior official said, reinforcing press reports that officials at the Pentagon and other agencies had been blindsided by the President’s withdrawal announcement on Thursday morning.
A wild Trump administration briefing on Syria in which a senior official denied that administration officials were caught by surprise by the pullout announcement, which is true. Wouldn't say what withdrawal timeline is. Conceded there's a "remaining pocket" of ISIS in Syria.
— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) December 19, 2018
Asked about Trump declaration on Syria directly contradicting all his officials, a senior administration official said (literally): "The issue is the president has made a decision, so previous statements… He gets to do that. That's his prerogative."
— Julian Borger (@julianborger) December 19, 2018
On Capitol Hill, a number of Republicans denounced the move by the President, comparing it to President Obama’s withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq, something the senior official said was an unfair comparison.
“The President’s generals have no idea where this weak decision came from,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).
At a lunch of GOP Senators in the Capitol on Thursday, it was reported that Republicans told Vice President Mike Pence that they did not like being blindsided by the President, as GOP lawmakers made clear their opposition.
“This is a terrible mistake,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who argued it will harm American interests in the broader Middle East.
Rubio was not alone.
Asked if the withdrawal would take place in the next 30 days, a senior official did not confirm or deny that an order had gone out for a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” the President tweeted Thursday morning.
CORKER on @VP Pence's explanation of Syria decision to GOP Senators: "I felt badly for the Vice President because he had talking points and, I mean, um, you know, there’s no way he could really defend—he did what a loyal soldier would do, but it was not resonating.”
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) December 19, 2018
Not all lawmakers objected to the President’s decision.
“Our military strategy in Syria – under Obama and Trump – has never made sense,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT).
“It was wrong when the Obama Administration took part in unauthorized war actions in Syria without a strategy. It was wrong for the Trump Administration to continue it,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA).
“U.S. forces should not be engaged in Syria — or any country — without legitimate military justification AND proper congressional authorization,” tweeted Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), often a critic of the President.
Meanwhile, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi raised the specter of the President acting in a way which would benefit Turkey – whose authoritarian regime has been favored by Mr. Trump – and at one time was employing the President’s former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn.
“All Americans should be concerned that this hasty announcement was made on the day after sentencing in criminal proceedings began against the President’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who admitted that he was a registered foreign agent for a country with clear interests in the Syrian conflict,” Pelosi said.