DEMOCRACY NOW!: As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Ro Khanna is a lead supporter of the resolution to condemn President Trump's recent actions in northern Syria. As many as 300,000 civilians have been displaced in Turkey’s assault on Kurdish-controlled areas, which was virtually greenlit by Trump when he abruptly withdrew U.S. troops stationed at the Turkey-Syria border. The House resolution rebuking the move passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 354 to 60.
"We have a tremendous amount of leverage with Turkey. We could have gotten a deal with Erdogan that would have prevented this kind of invasion. We give them military support, we give them economic support, they are a NATO ally — there was no consideration of that with the Trump administration," says Khanna. Trump's remarks reveal "what he is thinking, and that he does not have any concern for non-American life."
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Representative Khanna, can you respond to that? I mean, you, yourself, have taken a position asking for the withdrawal, saying the, you know, U.S. military should not be in the Middle East. What do you think President Trump, the Trump administration could have done to safeguard the lives of the Kurds who are now suffering from this Turkish assault? And what kind of pressure could the Trump administration have put on Turkey to ensure the safety of the Kurds?
REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I have called for responsible withdrawal, but not a withdrawal that is oblivious to human life in Syria or to American interests in Syria. President Trump, at the very first instance, should have notified the Kurds about what our intentions were, and notified our allies. I mean, he did this in a phone call with Erdoğan without even giving the Kurds notice. And, in fact, we were misleading the Kurds to believe that the Americans would have their back.
Second, we have a tremendous amount of leverage with Turkey. We could have gotten a deal with Erdoğan that would have prevented this kind of invasion. We give them military support. We give them economic support. They are a NATO ally. There was no consideration of that with the Trump administration.
But his answer really illustrates what he’s thinking, in that he does not have any concern for non-American life. Here, it’s just a total indifference to the fate of the Kurds who fought with us. That’s not the American tradition. In America, we believe and have a consideration for human rights.
And also I think the president has totally miscalculated in allowing for the resurgence of ISIS, and his actions have led to this precipitous withdrawal. What I think is really going on here is that the president has surrounded himself with war hawks like Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State Pompeo, and Bolton. They don’t agree with his instinct of withdrawal. Even Mattis didn’t. And so he feels constrained, and he’s fighting his own administration. And that leads to rash actions that are destabilizing and hurt human life. It would have been much better if he had found people who had expertise and shared his value of withdrawal and would have been able to do so in a way that would have protected American interests and civilian life.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Congressman Khanna, there seems to be some confusion about exactly how many troops the U.S. intends to withdraw from northern Syria and all of Syria. Trump says 28. What do we know about exact figures and where these troops are going?
REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I don’t have the details of the exact figures, but what I do know is the withdrawal has already given a green light to Turkey to invade, that there are already stories of the loss of human life. There is the story of thousands and thousands of people being displaced. So whatever action we have already taken has given Turkey the license to go in and begin the displacement of the Kurds. But I will be with our Armed Services and Oversight Committee getting the facts of what the president’s policy now is. Is it a complete withdrawal? Does he intend to leave any troops now still there?
AMY GOODMAN: And what does it mean that the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also condemned this? I mean, the reason there’s no action on most any issue between the House and the Senate is because the House is Democrat, the Senate is Republican, and so the Senate doesn’t endorse what the House does. Is he going to put a similar measure on the floor? Is there going to be a joint condemnation?
REP. RO KHANNA: I hope he does. I expect the Senate will do something. But we need more than just the condemnation of the president’s actions. We need to have a framework in Congress for dealing with Turkey and making it clear that Turkey’s economic relationship with the United States, their relationship on our military arms sales, are in jeopardy if they don’t immediately stop the invasion, if they don’t stop the displacement of Kurds. And then we need a plan in the Congress about our moral responsibility to take in Syrian refugees, to take in refugees who are Kurds who have been displaced, to figure out what economic assistance we can provide to that area to help rebuild societies that have been devastated in a civil war, where we have been involved.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Congressman Khanna, what about the kinds of sanctions that Trump — the Trump administration has put in place? Are those sufficient? And has there been any discussion of military sanctions? The EU has, of course, imposed a partial arms embargo on Turkey.
REP. RO KHANNA: We have been talking about potential arms sales restrictions to Turkey. It’s something that the Foreign Affairs Committee is discussing and the Armed Services Committee is discussing. I don’t think the sanctions have been sufficient, for the simple reason that the Turkish invasion continues and the displacement continues. This will only be resolved when Turkey stops taking those actions. Unfortunately, as I realized when we did the Yemen War Powers Resolution, which also passed in a bipartisan way in the House and the Senate, to restrict the president from refueling Saudi planes — what I realized then is that the president of the United States has an extraordinary amount of power. There’s only so much that Congress can do. But I think we have to maximize our congressional oversight, which is really about restricting arms sales and economic aid to Turkey.
AMY GOODMAN: And if you can respond to the reports that we’re hearing, as President Trump talks about the situation being “nice there” in northern Syria because no U.S. troops have died? The reports coming out of Syria, a Turkish airstrike on a civilian caravan in northern Syria Sunday, killing 15 people, including two Syrian Kurdish journalists — Mohammed Hussein Rasho, a reporter for Çira TV, journalist Saad Ahmed of Hawar News. President Trump saying if no U.S. life is lost.
REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I think some journalist needs to just ask the president bluntly, “Do you believe it matters if non-Americans die? Is that a moral consideration for you? Do you care about lives that are non-American?” And let him come out and say what “America First” foreign policy actually is. Is he saying that nothing has moral worth if it’s not about American interests and American lives? That has never, never been the American tradition. We had a Declaration of Independence that talked about the rights, inalienable rights, of every human being, the dignity of every human being. President Trump is perverting the very essence of American ideals when he makes statements like that. And moreover, this is not just about the loss of Kurdish life. This is not just about the loss of journalists’ overseas lives. This is about the resurgence of ISIS, that our troops fought so hard over the last few years. And those ISIS fighters pose a threat not just to Syria or Turkey or to the Middle East; they pose a threat to the United States.