President Trump said the US Treasury is “ready to go” with sanctions on Turkey in response to its incursion into Syria, after his defense secretary said the president ordered a deliberate withdrawal of troops from northern Syria to keep them out of harm’s way.
Trump said in a Sunday morning tweet that he’s dealing with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and others in Congress, including Democrats, about imposing “powerful” sanctions on Turkey if Ankara does anything in Syria the US considers off limits.
“Additional legislation may be sought. There is great consensus on this,” Trump said in the tweet. “Turkey has asked that it not be done. Stay tuned!” Graham, in a tweet, praised Trump’s “good decision” to work with Congress in responding to “Turkey’s outrageous aggression/war crimes in Syria.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also said the US has full authority to impose sanctions quickly on Turkey that could include shutting down all US dollar transactions with the country’s entire government — which is something the administration may do.
“We are ready to go on a moment’s notice to put on sanctions,” Mnuchin said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “These sanctions could be starting small, they could be maximum pressure which would destroy the Turkish economy.”
His comment echoed that of Trump, who on Oct. 7 tweeted that “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey.”
Asked what the administration is waiting for, Mnuchin said it is a “complicated, developing situation” that the US is closely monitoring and that there have been conversations with Turkish officials who “know what we will do if they don’t stop these activities.”
The threats comes amid criticism of Trump’s decision to pull back some US forces in northern Syria, a move that cleared the way for Turkey to send its forces into the country and attack American-allied Kurdish militias.
Critics say Trump gave Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a green light to attack, risking a resurgence of the so-called Islamic State and even a genocide of the Kurds. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis said as much in an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“You can pull your troops out — as President Obama learned the hard way, out of Iraq — but the ‘enemy gets the vote,’ we say in the military,” Mattis said.
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Trump has directed a deliberate withdrawal of American troops from northern Syria in advance of an expected increase in military action in the region.
On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Esper said the US has learned in the past 24 hours that Turkey is likely to attack further south and to the west in Syria, and that Kurdish forces are looking to cut a deal with Syria and Russia to counterattack against the Turks in the north.
The defense secretary said he spoke with Trump on Saturday night, and that after discussions with the national security team, the president directed the start of the withdrawal of forces from northern Syria but not the entire country.
Esper didn’t put a time frame on the action — nor did Trump on the potential for more sanctions.
“We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies, and it’s a very untenable situation,” Esper said. “We want to make sure we don’t put our soldiers in a situation where they could be killed or injured.”
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of many Republican critisc of Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces, tweeted on Sunday that Turkish forces “are filming themselves beheading Kurds” and that “US troops are at serious risk of being cut off & of coming under attack by enemy fighters.”
Trump pushed back Sunday against the criticism, saying on Twitter that it’s “very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting.”
Esper told CBS, in response to reports of ISIS fighters running free and potential war crimes in the area, that the US warned Turkey not to advance and “it’s a terrible situation, we condemn it.”
There are roughly 1,000 US troops in Syria. Esper on CBS made it clear that if US forces are attacked they will be able to respond because “we had the right of self-defense and we will execute it if necessary.”
In a separate interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Esper indicated that he believes Erdogan would have invaded whether the US kept a contingent of troops at the border or not.
“They were fully committed to doing this regardless of what we did,” Esper said, adding that he would not have supported sacrificing troops in a military effort to stop Turkey.
“We are not going to war, another war in the Middle East, against Turkey,” he said.