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Staff File Photo by Robin Rudd / Sen. Bob Corker answers a question from McCallie senior Ryan Huynh. Sen. Corker visited the McCallie School on Nov. 30, 2018.

NASHVILLE — Former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker says President Donald Trump's move to give a "green light" to Turkey's invasion of northern Syria is a "betrayal of huge proportions" that "jerked the rug" out from under America's Kurdish allies.

A Chattanooga Republican who until January was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker also called the impact of the president's abrupt move during his telephone call last week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan "gut wrenching" during an interview with the Times Free Press.

"A week ago, he gives him [Erdogan] the green light to come in — without any warning to the Kurds," Corker said Tuesday. "You know, there's ways of doing things. We never planned to be in Syria forever."

Corker said that "when you have a situation like this, you give your partner who's lost 11,000 lives — Kurds have lost 11,000 people in the fight — you give notice, long notice. So people can prepare and there can be some political accords made that are necessary between them and Turkey and between them and Syria.

"But," Corker added, "we just jerked the rug out from under them. It was just so precipitious with no warning. And so we had a third of the territory in Syria to bargain with as it relates to some type of political solution as it relates to the Kurds and others. And we just gave it up. It's just hard to imagine anyone making that type of decision in that manner."

Then, Corker noted, "the president turns around and acts like he's surprised by the fact Erdogan is doing exactly what he gave him the green light to do. And now he's talking about sanctions which, the sanctions that have been laid out are very modest, nothing like what's been put in place for Iran. So they're not really intended to change behavior."

The president's actions have upset any number of his normally staunch congressional Republican allies, including Corker's U.S. Senate replacement, Republican Marsha Blackburn.

Corker, who started off with warm relations with Trump when he was sworn into office in 2017, later tussled on Twitter with the president on several occasions. Since leaving office in January, the former senator has largely avoided the limelight.

There are about 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria. They've withdrawn from Kurdish-controlled areas as Erdogan seeks to cut a wide swath to prevent what Turkish officials describe as terrorist attacks by some Kurdish groups in Turkey. There have been news reports that Turkish fighters at one point bracketed one U.S. position with artillery fire.

During the interview, Corker also noted former Democratic President Barack Obama "obviously didn't handle [Syria] well either. We knew firsthand some of the Syrians who were involved. I met with them on the Turkish border, I met with them on the Jordanian border, so we've been living with the Syrian issue for many, many years."

"There's been several episodes that have been gut wrenching," Corker said. "This one is especially gut wrenching because we have betrayed a partner. We're going to allow them to be, many of them, hundreds of them, thousands of them to be murdered, to be killed and so many people to be again having to live in other places."

Multiple news reports state that hundreds of ISIS fighters who were held in Kurdish-run prisons have been freed.

Calling it "all so unnecessary and uncalled for," Corker said "of course it's evident now that the president wishes he had not [done] that very un-thought-out, sloppy phone call that he had. It's hard to understand how we could not know the implications of going along with that and then now, a week later, acting as if he wants it to stop."

Trump has defended the withdrawal, saying "endless wars must end." Moreover, the president says it's "very smart" not to be involved in the fighting along the Turkish border. If others want to do so then "Let them!" Trump stated in one tweet.

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis had warned that any premature withdrawal would lead to a resurgence of ISIS after years of U.S. and Kurdish effort.

"It's interesting, you know," Corker said. "[Trump] really doesn't trust people like Mattis, who by the way said this is exactly what was going to happen if we did it. It's interesting. He doesn't trust patriots like Mattis who have given their whole life in service to our country."

The president "doesn't trust those kinds of people and yet would trust people like Erdogan and Putin, Kim Jong Un. It's just a strange, it's the most unusual thing that I've seen. Of course, I was only there for 12 years, but it's just a most unusual approach to foreign policy."

On another front, Corker declined largely to delve into the ongoing House impeachment inquiry into Trump's efforts to have Ukraine investigate his potential 2020 Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as Biden's son, Hunter Biden. That was revealed in a rough transcript of a July conversation the president had with Ukraine's president which Trump ordered released, saying it demonstrated he did nothing wrong and that he wanted corruption investigated.

"I just don't want to comment on impeachment, I don't," Corker said. "I care deeply, and I do think things like this should be settled at the ballot box."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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