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“Meltdown”: Trump Defends Syria Withdrawal as House Votes 354 to 60 to Condemn His Actions

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As the displacement of 300,000 civilians over Turkey’s assault on Kurdish-controlled areas continues in northern Syria, the House of Representatives voted Wednesday to condemn President Trump’s actions. Turkey invaded the region on October 9, shortly after Trump virtually greenlit the Turkey assault by abruptly withdrawing a small number of U.S. troops who were protecting Kurdish areas in northern Syria. Since then, the Kurds have aligned themselves with the Syrian government, and a number of former ISIS fighters who were being held by the Kurds have escaped. We speak with Ozlem Goner, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at the City University of New York. She is a member of the Emergency Committee of Rojava.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: As many as 300,000 civilians have been displaced as Turkey’s assault on Kurdish-controlled areas continues in northern Syria. Turkey invaded the region on October 9th, shortly after President Trump virtually greenlit the assault by abruptly withdrawing a small number of U.S. troops who were protecting Kurdish areas in northern Syria. Since then, the Kurds have aligned themselves with the Russian-backed Syrian government, and a number of former ISIS fighters who were being held by the Kurds have escaped.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted to condemn Trump’s actions in Syria. The measure passed 354 to 60. The New York Times described the vote as, quote, “the most significant bipartisan repudiation of Mr. Trump since he took office.”

AMY GOODMAN: Shortly after the vote, President Trump met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders. The meeting didn’t go well. Both Pelosi and Trump later accused each other of having meltdowns.

During the meeting, Trump also distributed a copy of a letter that he sent to Turkish President Erdoğan on October 9th, the day of Turkey’s invasion. In the letter, Trump wrote, “Let’s work out a deal! You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be destroying the Turkish economy — and I will.” Trump ended the letter writing, “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool! I’ll call you later.” The BBC is reporting Erdoğan received the letter and threw it in the trash.

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are now in Ankara, Turkey, where they’re expected to meet with President Erdoğan today. They’re said to be pushing for a ceasefire.

During a press conference at the White House Wednesday, standing next to the Italian prime minister, President Trump defended his recent actions, saying the U.S. should not be involved in the fighting in Syria.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They’ve been warring for many years. It’s unnatural for us, but it’s sort of natural for them. They fight, and they fight long, and they fight hard. And they’ve been fighting Syria for a long time and on the border. That’s the border with Syria.

And I say, “Why are we protecting Syria’s land? Assad is not a friend of ours. Why are we protecting their land?”

And Syria also has a relationship with the Kurds, who, by the way, are no angels. OK? Who is an angel? There aren’t too many around. But Syria has a relationship with the Kurds, so they’ll come in for their border, and they’ll fight.

They may bring partners in. They could bring Russia in. And I say welcome to it. Russia went into Afghanistan when it was the Soviet Union, and it became Russia, became a much smaller country because of Afghanistan. You can overextend. He could do a lot of things. But, frankly, if Russia is going to help in protecting the Kurds, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. But it would be led by Syria.

And Syria doesn’t want Turkey to take its land. I can understand that. But what does that have to do with the United States of America if they’re fighting over Syria’s land? Are we supposed to fight a NATO member in order that Syria, who is not our friend, keeps their land? I don’t think so.

But Syria does have a relationship with the Kurds. The thing that’s common is that everybody hates ISIS. Now, the PKK, which is a part of the Kurds, as you know, is probably worse a terror and more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS.

So, it’s a very semi-complicated, not too complicated if you’re smart, but it’s a semi-complicated problem. And I think it’s a problem that we have very nicely under control.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by two guests. In Washington, D.C., Ro Khanna is with us, Democratic congressmember from California, member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Here in New York, Ozlem Goner is assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at the City [University] of New York. She’s a member of the Emergency Committee of Rojava. She is from Turkey and of Kurdish origin.

When you hear President Trump, Professor, talk about the Kurds are used to fighting, we are not, that it’s been a success because, he said, no U.S. soldiers have died in the area, what understanding do you have, as the images of funerals are coming out now, of the hundreds of thousands of people displaced, of the number who have died and of the connection to President Trump abruptly announcing he’s pulling the troops, however small number, from northern Syria, and the invasion happening directly afterwards?

OZLEM GONER: So, I mean, he’s saying that there are no U.S. soldiers that have died. That’s because they put the Kurds in the frontlines. And that is because the Kurds died, 11,000 — more than 11,000 Kurds of YPG and YPJ fighters died in fighting ISIS. And so, the role of the U.S. troops there, where they were a buffer zone, they were protecting. They were preventing a Turkish assault. They were preventing Turkey from invading, from occupying these territories, which Turkey has intended to do since 2011.

AMY GOODMAN: How did just 28 — I think Trump said 28 U.S. soldiers were there.


AMY GOODMAN: How could 28 soldiers prevent that?

OZLEM GONER: I think he means troops. That’s what I understand. Obviously, he has — all of this tells us that he has very little understanding of the region. He’s talking about Iraq all of a sudden, which, you know, is —

AMY GOODMAN: Confusing Iraq with Syria.

OZLEM GONER: He’s quite confusing, and he’s quite confused. And I also have a feeling that he’s getting these discourses and these messages from the Turkish president, for example, when he talks about the Kurdish fighters, when he names them as “bad” or “not angels.” So he’s definitely getting discourses from the Turkish president as to how to define this.

And he’s also, very obviously — you know, “These people have all basically been fighting,” these Orientalist depictions of the region, which is not true at all, and which, as we know, these wars in the region started with colonialism after World War I and then the U.S. involvement in the region after World War II in order to fight communism and leftist groups in the region. They have mobilized these jihadis, Islamist forces since World War II, and then it had gained a new pace with the September 11 and with the U.S. “war on terror.” So, the U.S., if these people are fighting and if the Kurds are fighting, it’s because of the U.S. investing powers in colonial and imperial policies in this part of the Middle — I mean, in the Middle East, in general, and especially in this part of the Middle East, where Kurds are divided into four nation-states, who have repressed them, oppressed them, massacred them, killed them in thousands and displaced them in millions. This is very — you know, this is also something that’s not discussed, how Kurds in Turkey in the ’90s were displaced in millions while the U.S. and Western powers were watching.

So, if there is war, if there is violence, this is not initiated by the Kurds. This is not even initiated by these nation-states. This is because this complete area — I mean, Syria has been a proxy war. And this needs to be stopped. And he’s taking no responsibility whatsoever for actions for a terrorist organization that grew because of the U.S. policies in the region. And so, I mean, it’s just — he’s very confused, giving multiple messages. But at the same time, this ahistorical, completely ahistorical depiction of the region, they have been all — where is he getting these facts? How long have they been fighting?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, can you talk about the — Ozlem —


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Since the Turkish assault now —

OZLEM GONER: Yeah, yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: — you know, humanitarian aid organizations have pulled out.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: There have been reports of widespread casualties. What are you hearing about the situation on the ground now?

OZLEM GONER: So, the situation on the ground is very dire. There are — the Turkish Army aligned with the Syrian jihadi forces, and now the freed ISIS have been basically — in Sari Kani especially, there has been — the fight has been very intense. And they are targeting — and this is where the war crimes and the humanitarian crisis start. I mean, this is not where it starts, with this is a big portion of it, is that they are attacking hospitals. You know, the Doctors Without Borders decided to get out of the — it’s not safe for journalists. It’s not safe for doctors. They’re attacking hospitals. They’re attacking infrastructure in many, many parts of northern Syria. In many parts of Rojava, there is no water and electricity, because they are openly targeting infrastructure so that people are displaced.

And he did say that at the U.N. conference September 24. It hasn’t been that long. He said what he’s intending. He said his major intention is to reconstruct this area, ethnic cleansing, and displacing Kurds from this area, so that, in his words, that he could put his Syrian sisters and brothers, who have been, again, exploited, and they are facing extreme racism and exploitation in Turkey, within Turkey, so he’s trying to draw this benevolent image of himself, to attack and displace and commit acts of ethnic cleansing in the region.

And there is also — it’s very important — right after his U.N. speech, he gave this message to the Turkish investors to actually go in the region and invest in the region. So this is from the perspective of Turkish capitalism, which is in crisis right now. This is also an opportunity to go and invest and ethnically cleanse a region and reconstruct, engineering. This is a war crime, because they are doing population engineering. They are doing, you know, a complete project, that he declared on the U.N., that the world leaders watched, that the Trump gave a green light. He keeps saying he’s not given a green light. But he did this after a phone call, and he decided to take the troops out, which everybody knew that Turkey, from 2011 on, wanted to invade this region. In 2014, when Kobani was under attack, Turkey — there are proofs, several proofs, that Turkey was supporting the ISIS fighters in their fight against the Kurds.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I mean —


AMY GOODMAN: — President Trump knew this, because in the announcement of his conversation with Erdoğan on October 6, the phone conversation where President Trump announced he was abruptly pulling back the U.S. soldiers, they said that Turkey would invade. We’re going to go to break, and when we come back, we’ll also be joined by Congressmember Ro Khanna. Stay with us.

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Rep. Ro Khanna: We Need a Responsible Withdrawal from Syria, Not One Oblivious to Human Life

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