Trump said during a news conference at the White House Wednesday afternoon that Graham “would like to stay in the Middle East for the next thousand years.”
The President suggesting that the South Carolina Republican should instead focus on investigating various members of the intelligence community Trump thinks tried to sway the 2016 presidential election against him.
“The people of South Carolina don’t want us to get into a war with Turkey, a NATO member, or with Syria. Let them fight their own wars. They’ve been fighting for a thousand years. Let them fight their own wars. The people of South Carolina want to see those troops come home,” Trump said.
Graham later responded on Twitter: “The worst thing any Commander in Chief can do is to give land back to the enemy that was taken through blood and sacrifice. I fear those are the consequences of the actions being taken right now.”
Graham and Trump have been closely aligned on many issues, with their relationship growing warm enough that they’re often spotted together on the golf links. But Graham has long been one of the most hawkish members of Congress, while Trump has been more adamant about pulling US troops from what he has called “endless wars.”
Trump told reporters on Wednesday that Turkey’s incursion of northern Syria “has nothing to do with us” and added that the former US allies that US forces left behind in Syria — the Kurds — are “not angels.”
Graham said Trump’s comments “undercut” the negotiating position of the high-level delegation heading to Turkey Wednesday night, which includes Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“I hope President Trump is right in his belief that Turkeys invasion of Syria is of no concern to us, abandoning the Kurds won’t come back to haunt us, ISIS won’t reemerge, and Iran will not fill the vacuum created by this decision,” Graham tweeted earlier Wednesday. “However, I firmly believe that if President Trump continues to make such statements this will be a disaster worse than President (Barack) Obama’s decision to leave Iraq.”
Graham also told reporters that he believes Trump is not listening to his own advisers, adding that Trump is “making the biggest mistake of his presidency by assuming the Kurds are better off today than they were yesterday.”
But he stopped short of saying he wouldn’t support Trump’s reelection over his decision to pull US troops from northern Syria, adding that the foreign policy approaches of some Democrats running for president are “no better.”
Graham is set to hold a news conference on Thursday to introduce bipartisan legislation which would “impose severe sanctions on Turkish officials in response to their incursion into northern Syria,” Graham’s office said in a statement.
CNN’s Sarah Westwood and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.