Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and other defense hawks are pushing back on President Trump’s decision to lift sanctions on Turkey following the announcement that a deal had been reached Wednesday for a permanent cease-fire in northern Syria.
Trump said the sanctions, which had been announced Oct. 14 and targeted top officials and agencies in Ankara, will be lifted unless something happens that “we’re not happy with.” Critics have voiced concerns over whether Turkey will abide by its end of the bargain and fear further attacks on U.S.-allied Kurdish forces.
Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the House and one of the leading voices on foreign policy in her party, has been highly critical of the administration’s decision to remove troops from Syria. She said she believes Congress needs to act on a bill to place sanctions on Turkey given the gravity of their military incursion in northern Syria.
“I think that it’s a grave mistake to put our security in the hands of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [Syrian President Bashar] Assad and [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan. I think our retreat from northern Syria clearly enables the rise of ISIS, and ISIS is a direct threat to the homeland. And I think Turkey ought to face consequences, including through sanctions, for invading Syria,” she told The Hill.
Cheney — who introduced a bill targeting the country’s energy sector, barting the U.S. from selling arms to Ankara, and imposing sanctions on Turkish leaders — said she still needs to look into the bipartisan sanctions bill spearheaded by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Foreign Affairs ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) before determining whether she will support it on the floor.
Still, she feels it’s critical the U.S. sends a message that it won’t accept attacks on its allies.
Engel and McCaul’s bill includes language to sanction the Turkish defense minister, the Turkish chief of the general staff, the Turkish army commander and the Turkish finance minister and bar arms transfers to Turkish military units in Syria.
“I’ll take a look at it. But I do think it’s very important for us to be clear that the Turkish invasion of Syria is something for which they’ve got to face consequences,” Cheney said.
“And we need to stand with our allies, the Kurds, and we’ve got to ensure that we don’t allow and enable the rise of ISIS and I’m very concerned that we’re now in a situation where we put our security into the hands of our adversaries.”
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who previously served as a Navy SEAL, said he’s skeptical about whether Turkey will abide by the terms of the deal, adding he feels it’s critical the U.S. has a presence to prevent ISIS from gaining ground and to remain informed on what’s taking place in the region.
“I’m a co-sponsor on both of those sanctions bills and, you know, Turkey is not acting like our friend here, and they still aren’t. I want to say that I applaud the president’s efforts to make this a better situation than it was a week ago. But I’m not going to kid myself into thinking that I still agree with the actions taken,” he told The Hill.
“So, both things can be true, right. We need to be — we need to have a very close watch on what Turkey is doing. I’m glad to hear that he announced that [Trump] is leaving some special operations troops there, as he said, to protect oil fields. But I think more importantly than that we need those eyes and ears on the ground to understand what is happening in Syria with respect to ISIS and their possible resurgence and with respect to the supposed cease-fire that we’re now hoping the Turks will abide by.”
While some said they feel Congress should move forward with a bill, other top Republicans said they believe the White House should continue to take the lead on the issue.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said it’s “good news that we’ve got a permanent cease-fire that shows the president was able to have a success.”
And House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said lawmakers have been working with the administration to ensure they have the tools needed to ensure terrorists are unable to escape Kurdish prisons, adding if additional sanctions are needed, he’s confident Congress will act.
“If Turkey doesn’t comply, [we want to see] does the administration have enough tools currently and if not, I think you’ll see a very bipartisan group in Congress ready to put even tougher sanctions in place,” he told The Hill.