Prominent evangelical conservatives are upset with President Donald Trump’s endorsement of a Turkish military operation in Syria, citing concern that such involvement could “trigger the resurgence” of the Islamic State and give Iran more influence in the region.
Trump was slammed by conservatives Monday after he spoke with Turkey President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday and indicated that 100 to 150 United States military personnel would be pulled back in advance of a Turkish offensive in Syria that would target Kurdish rebels backed by the U.S. in the fight against IS.
Turkey considers Kurdish rebel groups to be terrorist insurgents that pose a security threat. There was concern over the stability of northeast Syria last winter when Trump announced a "full" and "rapid" withdrawal from Syria as Turkey launched a military campaign in the Afrin region.
Although conservative evangelicals are known to be one of Trump’s strongest political support bases, well-known Christian conservatives have not held back in voicing their disagreement with Trump's policy on Syria.
Televangelist Pat Robertson and former presidential candidate and Fox News host Mike Huckabee opposed Trump's decision to pull back troops, which reportedly also goes against the recommendations of top officials in the State Department and Pentagon.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I want to say right now I am absolutely appalled that the United States is going to betray those Democratic Forces in northern Syria and we possibly allow the Turks to come in against the Kurds,” Robertson said on the air Monday, adding that “Erdogan is a thug.”
Robertson, host of Christian Broadcasting Network’s “The 700 Club,” argued that Erdogan has “taken control of his country as a dictator.”
“To say he is an ally of America is nonsense. He is in it for himself. The president that allowed [Jamal] Khashoggi to be cut in pieces without repercussions whatsoever is now allowing the Christians and the Kurds to be massacred by the Turks,” Robertson added. “I believe and I want to say this with great salinity, the president of the United States is losing the mandate of Heaven if he permits this to happen.”
Huckabee, a former Republican governor of Arkansas and former Baptist pastor, wrote on Twitter that he generally supports Trump on foreign policy and doesn’t want troops fighting “other nations’ wars.” But Huckabee contended that it is a “HUGE mistake to abandon the Kurds.”
“They've never asked us to do THEIR fighting-just give them tools to defend themselves,” Huckabee wrote. “They have been faithful allies. We CANNOT abandon them.”
Travis Weber, vice president for policy and government affairs at the social conservative lobbying group Family Research Council, told The Christian Post in a statement that protecting Northeast Syria against Turkish threats is in the U.S.’ interest.
FRC has generally been supportive of the Trump administration’s policies when it comes to issues of abortion and religious freedom.
But Weber argues that a Turkish military operation in northeast Syria would not only “expose and betray U.S. friends and allies” but also “lead to the death and displacement of thousands of religious minorities who have found protection and religious freedom under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Autonomous Administration of north and east Syria.”
“This destabilization could also trigger the resurgence of ISIS and allow Iran expanded influence in Syria — in turn threatening Israel and our allies in the Gulf region,” Weber said. “Not only will our withdrawal destabilize the region, but it sends the wrong message to our allies, and signals to the world that we don’t care about the religious freedom they have built.”
Not only has SDF been America’s “most reliable partner in the fight to defeat IS,” Weber added, but they are also “building religious freedom protections for Christians and others in the area.”
The region can serve as a “safe haven so the persecuted don’t have to flee to Europe and the United States," he contended.
“If we abandon our allies, and our values, so quickly and without warning, how can we expect future partners to want to work with us?”
FRC President Tony Perkins, a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, also voiced concern.
“An invasion by Turkey into NE Syria would pose a grave threat to the region’s Kurds and Christians, endangering the prospects of true religious freedom in the Middle East,” he wrote in a tweet.
USCIRF, a congressionally mandated nonpartisan panel of appointed religious freedom experts, expressed opposition to Trump’s decision through its Twitter account.
“#USCIRF deeply concerned re: U.S. withdrawal from & #Turkey's imminent incursion into northeastern #Syria; potentially grave implications for safety of religious and ethnic communities akin to 2018 humanitarian disaster in #Afrin,” a USCIRF tweet reads.
In its 2019 annual report, USCIRF recommended that a U.S. withdrawal from Syria should be done in such a way that it will not “negatively impact the rights and survival of vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities.”
Trump shot back at critics with Monday morning tweets, stating that if Turkey does anything that he considers to be off-limits in his “great and unmatched wisdom” he will “totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey.”
Trump continued in a second tweet by claiming that the “U.S. has done far more than anyone could have ever expected” in Syria “including the capture of 100 [percent] of the ISIS Caliphate.”
“It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory,” Trump wrote. “THE USA IS GREAT!”
Christian author and bi-vocational pastor Marty Duren compared Trump to King Nebuchadnezzar for using the phrase "I, in my great and unmatched wisdom” in his tweet.
In a tweet, Duren quoted the words attributed to the king found in Daniel 4:30:
"Is this not Babylon the Great that I have built … by my vast power and for my majestic glory?"
Republicans in Congress have also criticized Trump’s decision, including Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., slammed the decision.
“No matter what President Trump is saying about his decision, it is EXACTLY what President [Barack] Obama did in Iraq with even more disastrous consequences for our national security,” Graham wrote in a tweet posted Monday afternoon. “Unlike President Obama, I hope President Trump will reassess and take sound military advice.”