President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order imposing “powerful” sanctions against Turkey for its incursion into northeast Syria.
“The United States will aggressively use economic sanctions to target those who enable, facilitate, and finance these heinous acts in Syria,” Trump said in a statement. “I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path.”
The White House announced that tariffs on steel imports from Turkey will double, reverting to 50 percent from 25 percent. Trump imposed a tariff hike on Turkey last year after the country held Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who was living in Turkey, on charges of espionage.
The executive order also stated the Commerce Department would suspend negotiations on an unknown trade deal worth $100 billion. The White House and Commerce Department have declined to comment on the deal.
Trump has come under fire from swaths of lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, for his decision to pull U.S. troops from the war-torn region.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement on Monday he is “gravely concerned” about the U.S. response to Turkey’s attacks on Kurdish allies in Syria.
“Abandoning this fight now and withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria would re-create the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS,” McConnell said. “And such a withdrawal would also create a broader power vacuum in Syria that will be exploited by Iran and Russia, a catastrophic outcome for the United States’ strategic interests.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joined forces on Monday to announce they want Congress to “overturn” Trump’s decision.
“Just spoke with Speaker Pelosi regarding congressional action on Turkey’s incursion of Syria. Speaker supports bipartisan sanctions against Turkey’s outrages in Syria. She also believes we should show support for Kurdish allies and is concerned about the reemergence of ISIS,” Graham wrote on Twitter.
“As we find ourselves in a situation where the President gave a green light to the Turks to bomb and effectively unleashed ISIS, we must have a stronger sanctions package than what the White House is suggesting,” Pelosi tweeted later.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops has allowed the Turkish military to proceed with a planned invasion into northern Syria, where Kurdish fighters had aided American forces in fighting what was left of ISIS.
Reports coming out of Syria say Turkish-backed fighters may be committing war crimes. Images have been posted on social media showing the violence, including a graphic video that purports to show the execution of a Kurdish man by a Turkish fighter.
Trump said his executive order would impose “powerful additional sanctions” on Turkish officials or anyone else “who may be involved in serious human rights abuses, obstructing a ceasefire, preventing displaced persons from returning home, forcibly repatriating refugees, or threatening the peace, security, or stability in Syria.”
Trump, who has publicly embraced an “America first” approach to foreign affairs, defended his decision to withdraw from the region, decrying U.S. involvement in foreign wars.
“After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria. Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land,” Trump tweeted. “Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”
Top Pentagon officials and national security leaders were caught off guard by Trump’s move. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper released a statement on Monday claiming Turkey’s “unacceptable” invasion into Syria undermines the mission to defeat ISIS and puts remaining U.S. forces at risk.
“Turkey’s unilateral action was unnecessary and impulsive. President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan bears full responsibility for its consequences, to include a potential ISIS resurgence, possible war crimes, and a growing humanitarian crisis,” Esper said. “The bilateral relationships between our two countries has also been damaged.”