WASHINGTON (AP) — Washing his hands of Syria, President Donald Trump declared Wednesday the U.S. has no
stake in defending the Kurdish fighters who died by the thousands as America’s partners against IS
extremists. Hours later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats walked out of a meeting at
the White House, accusing him of having a "meltdown," calling her a "third-grade
politician" and having no plan to deal with a potentially revived Islamic State group.
Condemnation of Trump’s stance on Turkey, Syria and the Kurds was quick and severe during the day, not
only from Democrats but from Republicans who have been staunch supporters on virtually all issues.
The House, bitterly divided over the Trump impeachment inquiry, banded together for an overwhelming
354-60 denunciation of the U.S. troop withdrawal. Many lawmakers expressed worry that it may lead to
revival of IS as well as Russian presence and influence in the area — in addition to the slaughter of
At the White House, Trump said the U.S. has no business in the region — and not to worry about the
"They know how to fight," he said. "And by the way, they’re no angels."
After the House condemnation vote, the congressional leaders of both parties went to the White house for
a briefing, which grew contentious, with Trump and Pelosi trading jabs. The Democrats said they walked
out when the meeting devolved into an insult-fest.
"What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown," Pelosi told reporters, saying
Trump appeared visibly "shaken up" over the House vote.
"We couldn’t continue in the meeting because he was just not relating to the reality of it,"
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer criticized Trump for not having an adequate plan to deal with IS
fighters who have been held by the Kurds. He said the meeting "was not a dialogue, this was sort of
a diatribe, a nasty diatribe not focused on the facts."
Republicans pushed back, saying it was Pelosi who’d been the problem.
"She storms out of another meeting, trying to make it unproductive," said House GOP leader
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham called Pelosi’s action "baffling but not surprising."
She said the speaker "had no intention of listening or contributing to an important meeting on
national security issues."
Trump himself has stalked out of his White House meetings with congressional leaders — in May, saying he
would no longer work with Democrats unless they dropped all Russia investigations, and last January
during the partial government shutdown.
Separately on Wednesday, a letter was disclosed in which he both cajoled and threatened Turkish President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, urging him to act only in "the right and humane way" in Syria.
He started on a positive note, suggesting they "work out a good deal," but then talked about
crippling economic sanctions and concluded that the world "will look upon you forever as the devil
if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!"
In public appearances Wednesday, Trump said he was fulfilling a campaign promise to bring U.S. troops
home from "endless wars" in the Middle East — casting aside criticism that a sudden U.S.
withdrawal from Syria betrays the Kurdish fighters, stains U.S. credibility around the world and opens
an important region to Russia, which is moving in.
"We have a situation where Turkey is taking land from Syria. Syria’s not happy about it. Let them
work it out," Trump said. "They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border. We shouldn’t
be losing lives over it."
Trump said he was sending Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Ankara to urge
the Turks to halt their weeklong offensive into northeastern Syria. But his remarks, first to reporters
in the Oval Office and later at a news conference with his Italian counterpart, suggested he sees little
at stake for America.
"Syria may have some help with Russia, and that’s fine," he said. "They’ve got a lot of
sand over there. So, there’s a lot of sand that they can play with."
"Let them fight their own wars."
More than once, Trump suggested the United States has little concern in the Middle East because it is
geographically distant — a notion shared by some prior to Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida militants used
Afghanistan as a base from which to attack the U.S. That attack set off a series of armed conflicts,
including in Iraq, that Trump considers a waste of American lives and treasure.
The current withdrawal is the worst decision of Trump’s presidency, said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey
Graham, who meets often with the president and is one of his strongest and most important supporters in
"To those who think the Mideast doesn’t matter to America, remember 9/11 — we had that same attitude
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he strongly disagreed with Trump and had told
the president so. But he asked, "What tools do we have" to back up that disagreement?
Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish forces in
northern Syria a week ago, two days after Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing the U.S. from the
area. Turkey’s Erdogan has said he wants to create a 30-kilometer (20-mile)-deep "safe zone"
Ankara has long argued the Kurdish fighters are nothing more than an extension of the Kurdistan Workers
Party, or PKK, which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s and which Turkey, as
well as the U.S. and European Union, designate as a terrorist organization.
Trump mischaracterized the progress made thus far by the U.S. military in carrying out his instructions
to withdraw all 1,000 troops in northeastern Syria. He referred to the approximately two dozen soldiers
who evacuated from Turkey’s initial attack zone last week, but cast that as meaning the U.S. has
"largely" completed its pullout.
A U.S. official familiar with planning for the withdrawal of the 1,000 said that they are consolidating
onto two main bases but have not yet begun flying out of Syria in significant numbers. Military
equipment is being gathered and flown out, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to
the sensitivity of the withdrawal, which poses big security risks.
Trump downplayed the crisis that followed his decision to pull out of Syria, which critics say amounted
to giving Turkey a green light to invade against the Kurdish fighters.
"It’s not between Turkey and the United States, like a lot of stupid people would like you to
believe," Trump said. "Our soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be."
Trump did impose new sanctions on Turkey this week in an attempt to force Erdogan to end his assault. But
he said Wednesday, "It’s time for us to come home."
Even as Trump defended his removal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, he praised his decision to
send more troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom defend against Iran.
Trump said the U.S. is sending missiles and "great power" to the Saudis, and "they’re
paying for that."
AP writers Alan Fram, Darlene Superville, Jill Colvin, Kevin Freking and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed.