AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
That has nothing to do with us. That's President Trump's take today on the Turkish invasion into northern Syria.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So I view the situation on the Turkish border with Syria to be, for the United States, strategically brilliant.
CORNISH: Now, these comments follow a letter Trump sent President Erdogan last week. In it, he warned Erdogan that the Turkish president doesn't, quote, "want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people. Don't be a fool," Trump wrote. Turkey says it's rooting out Kurdish militants. But reports are that civilians and unarmed fighters are being killed. As a result, the Kurds, longtime U.S. allies, have turned to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, enemy of the U.S., for support. Many Republicans say Trump is making a mistake abandoning the Kurdish fighters who have helped the U.S. fight ISIS. One of them is Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a Republican of Illinois. He's an Air Force reservist who served in Iraq. He also sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Welcome to the program.
ADAM KINZINGER: Thanks. Good to be here.
CORNISH: You've said that you were among the first congressmen in Kurdish areas of Iraq after the Peshmerga beat back ISIS. How do you want the U.S. to reverse course? What would that look like?
KINZINGER: You know, it's tough. I mean, look. I would like to see us kind of recommit to protecting the Kurds. I'd like to see us retake airspace and retake ground ceded to Russia. It's not going to be really possible right now. I think the only option at this point is to try to negotiate for some kind of cease-fire. But again, it's hard to do that because having troops in the region is what your leverage is. You know, we're still the United States. We have plenty of leverage. But leaving that area takes a lot of that leverage away. And it's a vacuum that weaker countries, like Russia, are coming in to fill, and they're filling it gleefully. So it was obviously a very massive mistake that's going to have implications that continue to grow over the next few weeks and months.
CORNISH: The point - to your point there, the president said today, quote, "if Russia wants to get involved with Syria, that's really up to them." Should that be American policy toward Russia and Syria?
KINZINGER: No. I mean, of course not. I mean, this is the first Russian...
CORNISH: Does the president defer too much to Russia when it comes to foreign policy on issues like this? And does that worry you?
KINZINGER: I mean, I'm worried anytime, you know, Russia is given ground. Now, is that deferring to Russia? Not necessarily. But it's a big concern. You know, I mean, look. It was frankly under the prior administration when Russia got involved in Syria. But they have grown now under this decision to basically be able to occupy with Bashar al-Assad significant swaths of Syria. It's their first reintroduction basically to the Middle East since the late '70s, a strategic loss for the United States, a strategic loss for our partnership...
CORNISH: So is it a mistake? And is it one that you think...
CORNISH: ...The Trump administration understands?
KINZINGER: You know, I - it's a huge mistake, and I - my take on what the president - I think he understands it, and he's just doubling-down to prove he's right. And that's very dangerous. It's very wrong. If he doesn't see the mistake, that's concerning because it didn't take very long - it took a handful of hours after the announcement was made for the Turks to continue their onslaught. And when they tell you, you know, look. We want to stop endless wars, 50 troops in northern Syria were preventing a war. That's about as stopping endless wars as you can get. And now we're seeing the commencement of a 200-year-old fight that's going to be endless.
CORNISH: At the same time, you told CBS on Sunday that Russian misinformation is spreading that paints the Kurds as, quote, "bad Kurds."
CORNISH: And then today, President Trump says this.
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TRUMP: The Kurds know how to fight. And as I said, they're not angels. They're not angels if you take a look. You have to go back and take a look.
CORNISH: Is the president repeating bad information here?
KINZINGER: I think he's repeating bad information. To make the leap to say he is, you know, repeating Russian information, I can't make that leap. But I'll tell you this. I mean, the Kurds situation is complicated. There are Kurds that have engaged in, you know, pro-communist terrorist activities, but they're the Kurds that we chose to back against ISIS. And there are a lot of innocent Kurds that had nothing to do with that. And to paint them with a broad brush, you know - you look at future fights. We don't have to be linked to the Kurds for the rest of humanity. But you look at future fights, when we need people on the ground, when we're doing exactly what people advocate for, which is not 200,000 U.S. troops but finding partners that can actually do this work, how do you ever recruit another partner when you just did what you did here? So extracting yourself from Syria is one thing. Doing it with a tweet - informing the Kurds of a tweet, informing the military via tweet just doesn't make a ton of sense. And it's going to have implications that just - that reverberate.
CORNISH: On the issue of allies, a question posed by President Trump has been, do people really think we should go to war with NATO member Turkey? Do you see Turkey as a U.S. ally still?
KINZINGER: I guess, on paper. I introduced a bill today to basically reassess our partnership with Turkey, including our air base in Incirlik, Turkey, which I flew out of a few times because it's...
CORNISH: Reassess with an eye towards revoking?
KINZINGER: Yeah. I mean, it's tough - that's a tough thing to do because it pushes them to Russia. But at the same time, they've proven not to be a very steady ally. And so - but, you know, again, when it comes to do we want to fight a - nobody wants to fight a NATO member. Nobody wants to get in war at all. But I think if the president could've told Erdogan, hey, I have 50 troops in northern Syria, and I will protect them with the U.S. military, we know - I mean, look. There's nobody with a straight face that believes that Turkey would have commenced an attack and risk a war with the United States. It just - it doesn't pass the smell test.
CORNISH: That's Congressman Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois.
Thank you for your time.
KINZINGER: You bet.
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