Republican Congressman And Veteran Shares His Thoughts On Troops Withdrawing From Syria
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
And for more on the reaction from lawmakers, we're joined now by Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He's a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and he served in the Air Force both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Welcome.
ADAM KINZINGER: Thank you.
CHANG: So I know you're someone who's been very vocal about U.S. involvement in the Middle East. And today I noticed you tweeted about the president's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. You wrote that the president's claims about ISIS being defeated are simply not true. Tell me why.
KINZINGER: Yeah. It's - you know, estimates on the low end are there is still at least 2,000 ISIS left. And some people on the high end are saying upwards of 30,000. We know that ISIS still exists. We at least know even the intention of ISIS still exists. And we also know that beyond the issue of ISIS, you have Iran that wants to create a land bridge to connect it with Israel so they can supply the enemies of Israel and Bashar al-Assad. And we know Moscow has an interest there too. So...
KINZINGER: What we have done basically is we're going to embolden ISIS and I think swell their ranks.
CHANG: Let's take each of those issues one by one. Going back to ISIS, I mean, right now ISIS is controlling in Syria a very, very small territory.
CHANG: Is ISIS' presence really large enough to justify keeping U.S. troops on the ground?
KINZINGER: Yeah, I think so because ISIS' presence will I think grow the second we leave. So they can see it as a recruiting tool. If you think at any given time there is maybe thousands of people thinking about joining but they see that if they join, it will lead to the receiving end of American military action, they don't. When American military leaves, now they are motivated to join. And in fact, it may actually follow the prophecy of a new caliphate. So I think it's required for American military to be there for the time being.
CHANG: That said, it is unclear still if the U.S. even has any legal basis for being in Syria. I mean, they're not there with the approval of the Syrian government. And American troop presence was never supposed to be permanent in the first place. So when would be the right time to leave?
KINZINGER: I think it's when you know it, when we've defeated ISIS, when we know that we - as General Dunford said, we have a force there on the ground that's not Americans that are able to hold territory and continue the fight against ISIS without our presence. We're about 20 percent to that goal according to him. That's the time.
But look; the reality is choosing to fight - we don't have a choice about whether we fight terrorism. We're going to fight terrorism. The question is where do we fight them. Do we fight them there, or do we fight them on the streets of America? And I fear that the latter is going to happen if we leave too early.
CHANG: I want to address the issue of Iran. You bring that up. Iran is already deeply involved in Syria and in Iraq, where there are U.S. troops as well. Is troop presence in Syria really going to counter Iran's presence - because they're already all over Syria.
KINZINGER: Yeah. It doesn't counter their presence, but it counters strategic aims and objectives. So Iran's obviously going to exist where they exist. They will not exist in territory that American troops exist in. But one of the big areas is, for instance, Al-Tall. There's a base that crosses - that straddles a main supply route that would be a supply route for Iran to the enemies of Israel, as an example. This is one of their dreams that they've been wanting to put together. That has not happened because of the presence of American troops. Pulling American troops out will open that up. So yeah, I mean, obviously Iran and the United States can exist in the same country, as we do now. But we are able to block their strategic games, and we won't have the ability to do that.
CHANG: Some would also call the U.S. decision to pull out of Syria a gift to Turkey. Would you agree with that?
KINZINGER: Yeah, I think it's a gift to Turkey. I think it's a gift to Moscow. I think it's a gift to Iran and certainly a gift to Assad and the rat's nest of ISIS. And, you know, Turkey has been wanting to prosecute the fight against the Kurds. And I think for whatever reason, there was a conversation between the president and President Erdogan. And I think that bodes very badly for the Kurds.
CHANG: Though Turkey is now threatening to launch an offensive in Syria. Couldn't that pose a risk to U.S. troops if they were to remain there?
KINZINGER: I think - you know, look; we're - Turkey is an ally of the United States of America. I think if they were going to launch an offensive, we would know where that's going to be, and we could protect our troops accordingly. But also we have the ability with our presence to say whether they can or can't do it. That gives us strategic ability that we're not going to have when we leave.
CHANG: So now that the U.S. is pulling out of Syria, what can you do as a lawmaker to influence U.S. policy in Syria if you don't agree with the president?
KINZINGER: Yeah, you know, the extent of what I can do is to make my voice heard, you know? And there's ways and bills to do things. But really the president has a lot of power. I said that...
KINZINGER: ...With President Obama and President Trump.
CHANG: All right, Republican Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, thank you so much.
KINZINGER: You bet. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.