WASHINGTON — For once, Republicans and Democrats in Congress were in the same place: out of the loop.
When it came to President Donald Trump’s abrupt announcement that U.S. forces would no longer protect Syrian Kurds from a Turkish invasion, his supporters knew as little as his critics.
All the effort by Republicans to assuage and court the mercurial president meant little in terms of their ability to dissuade him from a decision that most of them vehemently opposed. They found out about it like Democrats, late at night and on Twitter.
For Republicans, it was a reminder that having the president’s back can be a one-way proposition, especially with a commander in chief who likes to make decisions from his “gut.”
Even as Turkish bombs fell Wednesday on northern Syria, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a frequent Trump golf club buddy and a presidential educator on foreign policy, talked to the president through television appearances and Twitter. He warned on “Fox & Friends,” a program that Trump is known to make part of his morning routine, that he’s making the “biggest mistake of his presidency.”
“It is never wise to abandon an ally who has sacrificed on your behalf,” tweeted Graham, a South Carolina Republican.
He was referring to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces fighting ISIS. But that advice might also apply to Trump’s relationship with his GOP allies, most of whom lined up in rare agreement with Democrats against the president’s Syria policy.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, whom Trump has referred to as “my Kevin,” said on Fox that he would have to call the president. On Wednesday, the California Republican tweeted that the Turkish attack “threatens to halt momentum against ISIS, directly assaults” partners in the Syrian Democratic Forces “and could give the likes of al-Qaeda and Iran new footholds in the region.”
One of the only Republicans in Congress supportive of a Syria withdrawal, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, told reporters on a conference call that he heard about Trump’s shift of U.S. forces from the media.
The Republicans appeared to be as in the dark as a bipartisan delegation with several first-term House Democrats who heard about Trump’s pullback in Syria while on a flight home from an official trip to Turkey, Afghanistan and Jordan. They quickly cobbled together a joint statement as they waited in customs at Dulles International Airport. Some sat on a bench at baggage claim to write it.
Signing on was delegation member Elise Stefanik, a Republican congresswoman from New York, who also tweeted the condemnation of Trump’s policy.
Two lawmakers on the trip said that even Trump appointees they met overseas did not indicate that they knew about the president’s plans.
“Quite the opposite,” said Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado.
“Nowhere in the conversation (overseas) was what happens if the United States condones, accept or even encourages” any moves by Turkey, said Rep. Abigail Spanberger, another first-term Democrat who was part of the delegation.
It all highlighted the unpredictability of Trump’s foreign policy, which has confounded enemies and allies alike. The president likes to make decisions with little warning, often in the form of a tweet. Longtime U.S. allies are often the last to know.
“The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!” Trump tweeted, pledging to punish Turkey economically if it goes too far in its assault.
Trump’s habit of abrupt U-turns and embellishment is part of his operating style.
“Predicting what Trump will do begins with accepting that he strives for surprise,” said Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio. “He also prefers to create both the problem and the solution, so he can appear to be a savior.”
Graham, a sharp-spoken critic of Trump during the 2016 election, has turned into a staunch ally. He frequently flatters the president, even kicking off his Syria criticism by saying earlier in the week, “I like President Trump. I’ve tried to help him.”
For the third day running, Graham tweeted foreign policy lessons in staccato missives against Trump’s isolationist tendencies.
“American isolationism: (asterisk) Did not work before WWII. (asterisk) Did not work before 9/11.(asterisk) Will not work now,” he wrote.
Graham urged prayers for “our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration,” adding, “This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS.”
That followed a remark that seemed certain to get the president’s attention, likening Trump’s decision to one made by Democrat Barack Obama to stand down American forces in Iraq.
“No matter what President Trump is saying about his decision,” the South Carolina Republican tweeted, “it is EXACTLY what President Obama did in Iraq with even more disastrous consequences for our national security.”
Trump did not back off.
He announced Tuesday that he and Erdogan will meet at the White House on Nov. 13.
Associated Press Writer Deb Riechmann contributed from Washington.
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