Secretary of State Mike Pompeo aggressively defended President Donald Trump on Thursday against criticism that his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northeastern Syria would inflict lasting damage on America’s credibility with its allies.
In an interview with The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star, Pompeo said that Trump is good for his word and that, “what the president said he would do, he did it.”
Trump’s sudden decision to withdraw U.S. forces earlier this month from northeastern Syria infuriated the region’s Kurdish population, which viewed the move as a betrayal after its soldiers had fought alongside the U.S. military against Islamic State.
Pompeo rejected a question about whether the president’s treatment of the Kurds had undercut U.S. credibility.
“The whole predicate of your question is insane,” Pompeo said. “The word of the United States is much more respected today than it was just two and a half years ago.”
Since Trump’s announcement of the withdrawal, Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence have led a diplomatic effort to end an outburst of violence that followed, displacing roughly 200,000 people and leaving prisons holding Islamic State fighters unmanned.
“We make clear the things that we will do,” Pompeo continued. “We also make clear the things that we’re not prepared to do. I think it’s important for people to understand that other countries have to step up too. Other countries must share the burden for not just the security of the world, but security for their own countries.”
The secretary’s remarks come amid new survey data showing increasing public concern about the situation in Syria. A CNN poll released on Thursday found that 75% of Americans are concerned and that 69% believe recent changes in U.S. policy will lead to a re-emergence of Islamic State.
The policy has led to bipartisan outrage on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and Democrats have demanded consequences for Turkey – a NATO ally – and its president, Tayyip Erdogan, who directed the invasion and is expected to visit the White House next month.
Trump on Wednesday said that he had ordered all sanctions on Turkey be lifted after it had agreed to halt its assault on the Kurds. Pompeo said he had recommended that action in light of his negotiations with Ankara.
“Was I comfortable? Yes. I recommended that to the president,” Pompeo said. “We went and laid out for President Erdogan the fact that we were against what he had done – the president was very unhappy that he conducted an incursion into Syria.”
“We wanted to stop that incursion to save lives,” Pompeo said. “We did that.”
Michael Wilner reported from Washington.