No one should have been surprised by the fury that arose in congressional Republican circles over the president’s green light to his fellow authoritarian, Recep Erdogan, for a Turkish invasion of Syria. Most of them, after all, have never bought into Trump’s particular Jacksonian mix of militaristic bluster and non-interventionism, reflected in his alternating desires to get U.S. troops out of Syria or deploy them to kill everything that moves. Traditional Republicans, moreover, feel a strong sense of attachment to the Kurds, U.S. allies in the Iraq War (which Trump considers a disaster pursued by losers) and the fight against ISIS (which Trump considers his own personal triumph, not to be shared with foreigners). The most unexpected thing, indeed, is that Trump chose to infuriate Republicans just when he needs them most in the battle against impeachment and the 2020 election. This is not the sort of statement he needs right now from the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham:
Graham, who has been one of President Trump’s strongest allies in the Senate, on Wednesday said Kurdish fighters in Syria had been “shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration” in its sudden decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria, leaving America’s longtime allies in the fight against the Islamic State group exposed to an attack by Turkey.
“I hope he’s right — I don’t think so. I know that every military person has told him don’t do this,” Graham said in an appearance on “Fox & Friends.” “If he follows through with this, it’d be the biggest mistake of his presidency.”
But if old-school neoconservative hawkishness explains part of the bad reaction Trump got for his invitation to Erdogan, there’s a separate reason that leaders representing another important slice of the MAGA coalition. Conservative Evangelicals have rebelled — some even more angrily than Graham — including the ancient Christian Right warhorse, Pat Robertson, as the Washington Post reports:
“I believe … the president of the United States is in danger of losing the mandate of heaven if he permits this to happen,” Robertson said during the Monday episode of his CBN show, The 700 Club.
In his unusually fiery criticism of Trump, Robertson said he was “appalled” by the president’s decision, implying it was a betrayal to Kurdish allies. Robertson went on to invoke the Armenian genocide, in which the Turkish government killed thousands of Armenian Christians amid World War I and the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated last year in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.
Robertson was hardly alone; nor was Lindsey the only Graham to lash out at the president he normally brownnoses shamelessly:
Perhaps most strikingly, Christian Right journalist David Brody, co-author of a hagiographical “spiritual biography” of Trump, retweeted this assessment by right-wing controversialist Erick Erickson:
Why all the angst from this particular corner of MAGA-land? Well, as Trump should have well known, conservative Evangelicals are very concerned about the rapidly shrinking Christian minority in Syria and throughout the Middle East, and view the Kurds as their protectors and the Turks as their executioners. And indeed, the region of Syria that Turkey is invading is one in which Erdogan’s Kurdish enemies and Christians co-exist in relative harmony. All that is now endangered, notes the conservative Christianity Today:
“The expected military invasion [by Turkey] and the possible confrontation with the Kurds might oblige Christians of the region to leave,” said Joseph Kassab, president of the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon. “This means one more tragedy to the Christian presence in Syria …”
“It is very possible that the American withdrawal from the region will lead to the extinction of Christianity from the region,” said Ashty Bahro, former director of the Evangelical Alliance of Kurdistan, in Iraq, noting the safety there for Christians and other minorities …
The Kurdish-controlled area of northeast Syria stretches 300 miles from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border. Approximately 750,000 people live there, including estimates of between 40,000 and 100,000 Christians.
Trump’s tendency to lump together all the peoples of this troublesome region as worthy of no American sacrifices rubs those who view him as the divinely appointed leader of a Redeemer Nation the wrong way. As NPR reports, the Christian network for which both Pat Robertson (its founder) and David Brody work appears to be coming to the realization that there’s a fundamental conflict between their own values and Trump’s when it comes to foreign policy:
“For President Donald Trump, pulling U.S. troops out of Syria fits neatly into his ‘America First’ foreign policy,” noted CBN White House Correspondent Jennifer Wishon. “But as the U.S. prepares to draw down,” she said, “Syrian Christians fear they’ll be wiped out. It appears U.S. policy has the potential to put 2,000 years of Christian tradition and history at risk.”
Rarely have CBN journalists assessed Trump Administration plans so harshly.
You have to figure that the Christian Right leader most discomfited by this sudden disagreement is Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, who is reportedly working on a 2020 campaign book instructing Christians they have a religious obligation to support Trump’s reelection.
Maybe Mike Pence will pray with the boss and place his feet back on the paths of righteousness.