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Indiana Republican Rep. Jim Banks On Syria


Many Republicans have been outspoken about their opposition to the Trump administration's actions in Syria. In the House, 129 Republicans joined with Democrats in a nonbinding resolution to condemn President Trump's withdrawal of U.S. troops. Among them was Indiana Representative Jim Banks, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, who's also served in Afghanistan. Welcome.

JIM BANKS: Good to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You voted for the resolution against the president. And it is a significant break with President Trump. But does it mean anything? It was non-binding. Was it really just symbolic?

BANKS: I mean, I see it less as a rebuke of the administration and more as a voice of support of our maintained efforts in Syria as we combat the threat of ISIS and to stand with our Kurdish allies.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, how could it not be a rebuke of the president? We've been hearing reports of how chaotic the U.S. withdrawal from Syria was, how Russian forces took over the U.S. base, how Americans had to turn away civilians who were caught in the fighting. The words Saigon moment have been used. How is this served American interests?

BANKS: Well, let's be intellectually honest. I mean, when you read the script of the resolution, there's nothing in the resolution that necessarily condemns the administration unless the administration completely abandon the situation in Syria. And that's what I would disagree with. I don't want to see us abandon a situation in an area where if we did, the imminent return of ISIS would be the dominant situation that we would be dealing with for the years to come.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But all reports suggest that this was a very hurried, chaotic exit of U.S. forces. I will actually quote someone Fox News spoke to - Special Forces soldier serving in Syria who said, "I am ashamed for the first time in my career." I mean, you serve in the Navy Reserve. You've been to Afghanistan. Is this the way that this should have been dealt with?

BANKS: I don't know. This is a complex situation. And we have to remember that these different factions have been fighting for centuries over religion and land. And it was never our intent to begin with to be in between those factions fighting over those issues. Our intent...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. But that's...

BANKS: ...To be there was to fight.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Not what's going on...

BANKS: Was to defeat...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Right now.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's not what's going on right now, in fact, yes.

BANKS: I don't know that we're arguing. I mean, I supported the resolution because I don't believe we can afford to turn our backs on this region. But the impetus for that is the threat of a returned and resurged ISIS. And that's what is most concerning to me. If we see a resurgence of ISIS as many of us are worried and predict that we will, this will be a decision by this administration that we will live to very much regret.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you concerned about Russia moving in - about this basically helping these Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?

BANKS: Yes, very much so. And many of my colleagues on the Armed Services Committee were fully aware that the Russians are very much aligned with Turkey and President Erdogan. And that vacuum that we create when we pull out of situations in this area is often filled by not just Russia but China, our greatest adversaries on the world stage. So, again, that's why I and so many Republicans - that's why we supported this resolution calling on the administration to maintain a central focus on this region.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm going to quickly turn to a few issues of this past week. The president suggested and the government complied with using his hotel in Florida as the site of a major international diplomatic event. He has now reversed course. Your thoughts on that reversal?

BANKS: I'm glad to read that he reversed that decision. And I think that speaks for itself.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You thought it was ill-advised?

BANKS: I think I've - the distraction that it created I think alone shows that the president is probably well - he probably made a very wise decision to retreat from holding it at one of his properties, to hold it somewhere else where we'll be far more productive.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I just have a last question. When we look at something like this - the president's resort - for many people, it speaks to sort of a larger issue with this president about him blowing through every acceptable norm of behavior. And so I wonder for you, what happens when you want to object to something a Democratic leader does someday? Don't you worry that this sets a precedent that will make that very difficult?

BANKS: Again, the president decided to retreat from the position of holding it at his property. And I appreciate that the president made that decision. Whether that sets any norm moving forward, it shows that the president is taking the advice of his advisers to do so. And I appreciate that type of leadership.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Republican Jim Banks, representative from Indiana. Thank you very much.

BANKS: All right. Goodbye.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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