WASHINGTON — Rep. Justin Amash, who quit the Republican party after calling for President Donald Trump to be impeached, criticized Trump for using American troops as "paid mercenaries," arguing in an interview on "Meet the Press" that the president is reshuffling military personnel around the Middle East instead of following through on a pledge to bring American soldiers home.
“There are people who support the president, who believe things he says, but it’s pretty clear he’s not bringing home the troops. He's just moving them to other parts of the Middle East," Amash, I-Mich., said.
"He’s moving troops back into Iraq, he's moving other troops into Saudi Arabia and using our forces almost as mercenaries, paid mercenaries who are going to come in, as long as Saudi Arabia pays us some money, it's good to go," he added.
Amash's comments come after Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters the troops departing northern Syria would head to Iraq to help fight against ISIS — and as Trump tweeted that he was "bringing soldiers home." Other U.S. troops are heading to Saudi Arabia, Trump said last week, to help defend the country after a September attack on an oil facility.
While Amash said American troops shouldn't have been in Syria without congressional approval in the first place, he panned the strategy surrounding Trump's decision to withdraw troops from the region as lacking in foresight.
Turkey began a military operation in northern Syria days after the announcement, clashing with Kurdish fighters in the region before a brief pause was announced.
"He could have prepared in advance for the obvious consequences. He certainly knew what Turkey would do, and then he acted surprised they are coming in and committing acts of violence," Amash said Sunday.
"You don't wait 'til after withdrawing the troops to make a plan to go pressure Turkey to ease up and then call for a ceasefire," he added.
Earlier this month, the White House announced that it would move forces from the "immediate area" as Turkey began a "long-planned operation into Northern Syria." Days later, the Pentagon accelerated that move by pulling another 1,000 troops out of the region amid fighting between the Turks and the Kurds.
That announcement sparked bipartisan condemnation from members of Congress who warned America was ceding influence in the region and that the move could end up playing into the hands of terrorist groups like ISIS. The Kurds had been one of America's top allies in the fight against ISIS and reports say that ISIS prisoners are escaping amid the chaos.
Last week on "Meet the Press," former Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the withdrawal could lead directly to a resurgence of ISIS.
But Trump has defended the decision as part of his campaign promise to disentangle American forces from complicated fights in the Middle East.
Amash joined Congress after the Tea Party wave in 2010 and went onto found the House Freedom Caucus, a coalition of many of the more conservative Republicans in the House.
While Republican lawmakers largely fell in line behind Trump shortly after his 2016 election, Amash was one of the only exceptions.
He publicly backed impeaching Trump after the release of the Mueller report, making him the first Republican member of Congress to do so.
And a few months later, Amash cut ties with the Republican Party, announcing he’d run again as an independent.
Trump has bristled at that criticism, blasting Amash on Twitter and calling his decision to leave the GOP “great news.”
During his Sunday interview, Amash said that he’s worried less about emboldening Trump by setting him up to survive a vote for his removal in the GOP–controlled Senate than he is about the precedent the House would set by not impeaching him.
“There are consequences to finding him not guilty in the Senate, but there are consequences to not holding him accountable in the House,” Amash said.
“Here’s a guy who thinks that nothing matters, everything he does is applauded by people who are afraid of him, frankly.”