Susan Rice On Trump's Decision To Take U.S. Out Of Syria
SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
And joining me now is Ambassador Susan Rice. She served as National Security adviser in the Obama administration advising the president on Syria policy. She's also been ambassador to the United Nations.
Ambassador Rice, welcome.
SUSAN RICE: Good to be with you, Sacha.
PFEIFFER: We just heard about the situation on the ground in northern Syria. Would you give us a higher-level view? So what are the strategic implications of withdrawing U.S. forces there in terms of the impact regionally and even internationally?
RICE: Sacha, this is nothing short of a self-inflicted strategic catastrophe. The consequences of President Trump's impetuous decision to withdraw U.S. forces are multiple. First of all, ISIS is going to be able to rejuvenate and reconstitute itself. The New York Times is reporting that we abandoned five dozen high-value terrorists from ISIS that were imprisoned and now are without our protection and detention. We also have the reality that Kurds are being slaughtered and beheaded in the streets by Turkish-backed militia. Russia and Assad's regime in Syria now have the capacity and, in fact, have been invited by the Kurds to come to their aid and protection because the United States abandoned them.
The reason why for five years the Kurds have been protected and the Turks have not had the will to intervene and create this catastrophe is because the United States was firm in our support for the Kurds and deterring the Turks. When President Trump made the decision to withdraw U.S. forces, it basically rolled out the red carpet for Erdogan. This is what we have. It's Trump's Saigon, and it's nothing short of catastrophic and shameful.
PFEIFFER: President Trump has repeatedly said that we need to end these endless wars. For people who agree with him and think there are no easy options in Syria, so we should just get out entirely, what's your response to that?
RICE: Well, the reason why we had a small number - barely over a thousand U.S. troops - in Syria was not to topple the regime. It was not to get involved in the Syrian civil conflict. It was to fight a clear and present terrorist threat from ISIS. The reason why they needed to stay after ISIS had been largely debilitated but not entirely defeated is because we have seen time and again in that region - in Iraq and now in Syria - what happens when you take the pressure off the terrorists. They reconstitute and come back.
This was a very economical investment that was begun under the Obama administration and was continued until recently by the Trump administration to put in small numbers of U.S. personnel to provide training and advice and assistance to the Kurds and the Arab forces in northern Syria who were taking the fight to ISIS. So unlike the Iraq ground war, unlike Afghanistan, this was not an American ground war. It was not a war that was costly in terms of casualties for the United States or in terms of resources.
And now, because of this withdrawal, all that work, all that investment is going to be at risk of loss because ISIS will have no pressure on it. There'll be a humanitarian catastrophe for which the United States has blood on its hands. And Russia, Iran and Assad will be the proximate beneficiaries in addition to the Turks.
PFEIFFER: If you were still in a position to be formally advising the president, what would you tell him the U.S. should do now in this situation?
RICE: Well, if I were advising the president, I'd hope he would have taken my advice and not made this decision in the first place. Now, to be pretending that we're outraged and surprised at what the Turks are doing and talking about post-facto sanctions against Turkey is really a joke. I mean, what we ought to be doing is making very clear to the Turks that we will fight them if necessary to protect the investment we've made in counterterrorism in Syria to protect the Kurds.
You know, we shouldn't have ever let it get to this point, but we still are the most powerful country militarily in that region. And the Turks wouldn't be doing this if they thought we were prepared to stop them.
PFEIFFER: This is a situation where even some of the president's biggest backers like Lindsey Graham are very critical of this move. In about the 30 seconds we have left, what do you see as the likely political fallout for President Trump from this?
RICE: I'm not a political prognostician, and I don't know. I do know that this is such an egregious assault on our national security and our national interests delivered to us by the president of the United States that refreshingly, even his most (unintelligible) allies are appalled and concerned.
PFEIFFER: That's Ambassador...
RICE: But what are they prepared to do about it? I don't know.
PFEIFFER: That's Ambassador Susan Rice. Her new memoir "Tough Love: My Story Of The Things Worth Fighting For" is out now. Thank you for your time.
RICE: Thank you, Sacha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.