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In Support Of Withdrawing U.S. Troops From Syria


We're going to be hearing different perspectives about the president's decision to pull troops out of Syria. Our next guest may surprise you. He's a policymaker. He is a Democrat. And he tweeted after the president's announcement, quote, "if you believe in the rule of law and Constitution, then you should support the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria," unquote - that from Congressman Ted Lieu of California. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and he's with us now.

Congressman, thank you so much for talking with us.

TED LIEU: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: You seem to think the president got this decision right, even though you are often a critic. Is that true? Did he get this one right, and why so?

LIEU: He did. Now, I don't think he should have done it by tweet or circumvented his Department of Defense advisers. But I do believe that withdrawing troops from Syria is the right thing to do. There was never congressional authorization for much of the troop deployment. There was no strategy. And even if you asked the simple question today - what is our end state that we want in Syria? - no one can really answer that nor how we get there. So taking our troops out of the combat zone was the right thing to do.

MARTIN: There are those who are arguing that this precipitous decision abandons the Kurds and Arab fighters who have been fighting alongside the U.S. in the battle against ISIS and this kind of decision sends a terrible signal to allies around the world. What would you say to that?

LIEU: I think most Americans would be surprised to know we only had a measly 2,000 U.S. troops. For war hawks and other people to say that this is going to be, you know, the end of the Middle East as we know it and to have all these, you know, fearmongering scenarios is simply not true. There was a power vacuum in Syria. There is still a one. Two thousand U.S. troops was never going to change that. We've been in Syria for many, many years with worsening results. Until we actually have a well-defined mission for our troops and a strategy, I don't think we should be deploying them into combat zones.

MARTIN: Forgive me. With all due respect, Congressman, that wasn't my question. My question was the signal that it sends to allies that the U.S. can't be trusted - that's the question.

LIEU: So I think it's a fair point that Donald Trump should have given more notice to our allies. But he campaigned on withdrawing troops from Syria and from Afghanistan. It should not come as a surprise. And liberals and Democrats, for years, have been saying - get us out of endless wars. And the notion that somehow 2,000 U.S. troops, which is basically the size of just one small- to medium-sized brigade, was going to keep the chaos in Syria from continuing on was always a fantasy. If we really want to solve Syria, then we would deploy a really large number of troops for an extended period time to win. But this sort of muddling through was not serving anybody well, and it was putting our troops in harm's way with no well-defined strategy.

MARTIN: And the argument is that the president seemed to be more amenable to the arguments of another world leader, the president of Turkey, than to the arguments of his own appointed advisers and that that in itself sends a poor signal. What would you say?

LIEU: I would agree with that point. He should not be influenced that much based on one phone call with a foreign leader. But this was not a notion that Donald Trump never brought up. He repeatedly talked during his campaign as well as during his presidency about taking our troops out of these faraway places. And he finally decided to do it. I think he should have given much more notice and had a better process. But this is something he's always said he was going to do.

MARTIN: So one more question, if I can, about a different matter - as we are speaking now, the federal government is partially shut down. Do you have any sense of when or how this is going to be resolved?

LIEU: It is all dependent on Donald Trump. Last week, he told the American people on national TV, quote, "I am proud to shut down the government" end quote. And now we're in a Trump shutdown. It is harming Americans. It's harming our economy. It also terminated the Violence Against Women Act. There are a lot of very severe consequences to this shutdown, all because Donald Trump wants his vanity wall.

MARTIN: But this is the third shutdown of the year, and it does seem as though the president, fairly or unfairly, seems to be able to make a compelling argument that, you know, he's putting the Americans' national security at the forefront and he's willing to pay a high price for that and that the Democrats, the people who disagree with him, are putting other matters first. And that seems to be a very compelling argument to some people. Are you at all concerned that the war for public opinion is still on his side even if you think the facts are not?

LIEU: I would take a different view. The Republicans got crushed in the midterms. And the Republicans campaigned on the wall, on hating immigrants, on this, you know, fake crisis at the border. Democrats campaigned on health care and infrastructure, and we won. So I am not concerned about public sentiment. I believe it's on the Democrats' side.

MARTIN: What's your advice to your leadership on this point?

LIEU: They should hold firm and not use U.S. taxpayers to fund a wall. Donald Trump's campaign promise was not building a wall; it was building a wall with Mexico paying for it. And until he gets Mexico to pay for it, it's not going to happen because Democrats are not going allow U.S. taxpayers to fund a stupid, wasteful and inefficient wall.

MARTIN: That's Congressman Ted Lieu. He represents California's 33rd District. He's a Democrat.

Congressman, thanks so much for talking to us.

LIEU: Thank you, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARVO TO ME'S "MND WRKS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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