Recent Turkish aggression calls for some American action

Published 8:20 am Monday, October 21, 2019

In 2011, President Obama decided against negotiating a continued status of forces agreement for U.S. military forces in Iraq and instead went ahead with a rapid drawdown of forces. Too many American lives were lost fighting in Iraq, and no one believed we could continue on there forever. However, the rapid withdrawal proved to be a catastrophic mistake, as it enabled an enemy far worse to emerge — the Islamic State (ISIS) and ISIS sympathizers. Over the next several years, the world watched in horror as ISIS routinely beheaded innocent civilians and sent its fighters to attack foreign countries. This wasn’t just foreign fighters killing one another — America itself was attacked by ISIS fighters in San Bernardino in 2015 where 14 people were killed and in Orlando in 2016 where 49 people were killed. We know that if we don’t deal with threats like this, we will have to face these perpetrators of evil on our own soil. Then-candidate Trump pledged that when he was president, America would confront the Islamic State and defeat it.

President Trump deserves a lot of credit for how successfully he has worked to eradicate ISIS and for rebuilding our great military, which for years was underfunded. He had to clean up the mess that the Obama administration had left before him. The president has done this while remaining true to the principle he laid out that America would not become involved in endless wars. As Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and a veteran myself, I take the decision to deploy U.S. servicemembers abroad seriously, and I applaud President Trump’s commitment to return our troops home. While I think the president’s instincts are correct, we must ensure we prevent ISIS from regaining a foothold in the region, which threatens our own country’s national security.

Last month, President Trump announced he was moving forward with a withdrawal of troops from the area around Syria, one of the regions where ISIS first gained a foothold. Since the announcement of U.S. troop drawdowns, we’ve seen bad actors — notably Turkey and Russia — aggressively filling a vacuum in the region in an attempt to undermine U.S. interests and allies, particularly the Kurdish people, who have been some of our most faithful partners in addressing the threat of terrorism. The Kurds have a history of being oppressed by their neighbors. Their people have been dispersed throughout Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran, but they mainly reside on the Turkey and Syria border. Since we have left the area, Turkey is destabilizing the region by pursuing a military offensive against the Kurds, and it’s reported that hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee their homes. The Kurds have been the lone voice of religious tolerance and the closest thing to a safe haven for refugees that would otherwise be forced to flee the region.

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Because of Turkey’s aggression, the Kurds are no longer focused on fighting ISIS and providing stability in the region, but rather their own survival by working with bad actors — Iran and Russia. ISIS has shown its intention of spreading terror and eliminating western civilization. Although the United States cannot resolve the conflict that has been going on between Turkey and the Kurdish people for generations, I believe we need to ensure there is stability in the region that prevents ISIS or a similar group from being able to sow terror around the world.

This week, I voted in favor of a bipartisan resolution with 354 of my colleagues opposing the decision to withdraw U.S. troops in Northeast Syria. I’m pleased the Trump administration heard us. After first authorizing sanctions and raising steel tariffs on Turkey, President Trump sent Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo to negotiate a ceasefire in the region, which was announced on October 17. Based on Turkey’s actions, I believe it would still be wise for Congress to help prevent Turkey from continuing their military offensive against the Kurdish people in the future. That’s why I joined 79 members as an original cosponsor of the Countering Turkish Aggression Act of 2019. This legislation places strong sanctions on Turkey and organizations providing logistical and financial support to their military assets, until they reverse their campaign against the Kurdish people. I hope strong sanctions will encourage Turkey to pull back from their aggression, and I hope the president will continue his administration’s successful efforts to ensure groups like ISIS never threaten America again.