Georgia Democrats are upping the pressure on U.S. Sen. David Perdue to denounce President Donald Trump’s surprise decision to withdraw American forces from northern Syria, capitalizing on stark GOP divisions as party leaders grapple with how to respond.
The president’s announcement earlier this month prompted criticism on both sides of the aisle for effectively abandoning the Kurds, who have been key allies in the U.S. effort to defeat the Islamic State. Trump’s move cleared the way for a quick Turkish assault and for Russia and Syria to join in on oversight of the border region, reducing American influence there.
The chain of events produced a rare split among Georgia GOP lawmakers in Washington, who have been extremely supportive of the president and his agenda. Five of nine of the state’s Republican U.S. House members voted last week to pass a Democratic-authored resolution rebuking the White House and calling on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “immediately cease unilateral military action.”
In the Senate, Republican Johnny Isakson has signed onto an alternate measure authored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemning Turkey’s actions and urging Trump to end the U.S. withdrawal and revoke Erdogan’s invitation to the White House.
Perdue, a member of the Armed Services Committee, has taken a more cautious approach as the Senate has struggled to coalesce around a strategy for admonishing the White House or sanctioning Turkey. He hasn’t signed onto the McConnell resolution and has spoken little about the president’s actions.
“This is a very complicated situation,” he said Tuesday afternoon.
That’s left an opening for Perdue’s four Democratic challengers to revive their attacks on him, casting the senator as a Trump lackey.
Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said Perdue and other “Trump diehards enable an irresponsible, irrational president” who sparked a “geopolitical disaster.”
‘Slap in the face’
The push from Perdue’s challengers came as Trump celebrated a cease-fire struck Wednesday and said he would lift sanctions on Turkey, a NATO ally.
In an appearance on Fox Business, Perdue raised concerns about Turkey partnering with Russia.
“NATO was created in order to stand up to the threat from the Soviet Union and now Russia,” he said Wednesday.
Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, an ex-congressional aide on foreign policy and onetime U.S. House candidate, said he wanted to take American forces “out of harm’s way as swiftly as possible.”
“But there’s a right way to do things, and this isn’t it,” said Ossoff, who runs a documentary film company that’s produced investigations of the Islamic State in Kurdish territory. “No diplomatic or military groundwork laid, no plan for securing ISIS prisoners, no guarantees secured to protect civilians from violence and displacement, no warning given to Kurdish partner forces that have made huge sacrifices fighting ISIS alongside ours.”
Businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico, one of Ossoff’s primary competitors, called Trump’s decision-making “a slap in the face to our service men and women, a betrayal of our Kurdish allies, and a threat to global security.”
Other Georgia officials largely steered clear of commenting on Wednesday’s events in the Middle East, but local House members were divided last week on a Democratic-authored resolution.
U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson of West Point, a member of the GOP leadership team, voted to advance the nonbinding measure, which overwhelmingly passed the chamber 354-60.
“We support the president and we support his efforts to make sure that we end these endless wars,” he said. “We also wanted to make sure that our allies know that we stand with them.”
U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, a Republican from Monroe and a senior member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, voted “present.” Three other Georgians — U.S. Reps. Barry Loudermilk of Cassville, Rick Allen of Evans and Tom Graves of Ranger — opted to reject the resolution.
Loudermilk said the measure was rushed to the floor and that he “didn’t have the information I needed to determine whether it was the right thing or not.”
“To react that quickly, without information on a resolution that won’t change the outcome one bit — all it is is condemning the president,” Loudermilk said.
‘Core American value’
Over the weekend, Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry gathered with a few dozen Kurdish-American immigrants and their supporters to read a proclamation recognizing the crisis in Syria and admonishing Trump’s withdrawal.
“Refugee resettlement has been a bipartisan issue for more than 40 years — it’s a core American value,” said Terry, who’s also competing to challenge Perdue.
At the event in Clarkston, which has forged a reputation as one of the most diverse cities in the nation, Terry was joined by a string of local Kurdish leaders who condemned the Trump administration and its GOP allies.
Soleen Karim, an architect who co-founded a program that designs facilities for refugees, talked about the thousands of Kurdish fighters who gave their lives to stop the Islamic State, the terrorist group that seized territory in parts of Iraq and Syria.
“This is not how we should repay them,” she said. “I hope that you can inform your neighbors and your friends, your brothers and your sisters, of the dire situation.”
Heval Kelli, a Syrian Kurd whose family settled in metro Atlanta after fleeing repression in Syria, said there was one word to describe how he feels about the U.S. withdrawal: “Betrayed.”
“And as Americans, we feel ashamed,” added Kelli, who is now an Emory cardiologist.
“The most important thing we can do is to educate Americans about who we are — and what we’re fighting for,” Kelli said. “We Kurds like to say we have no friends but the mountains. But we need to change that. Our community is the mountain.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.