SALEM — "This incursion into Syria is nothing short of criminal," says Danvers resident Bob Gamer, adding that the abandonment of the Kurds "will be the ruination of our foreign policy in that part of the world. It's a powder keg."
Gamer was among about a dozen North Shore residents who stood outside U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton's Front Street office Friday morning to protest President Donald Trump's decision to pull American troops from a region of northern Syria.
It's a move that was swiftly followed by an incursion of Turkish forces in what has been seen as a betrayal of Kurdish fighters who helped in the fight against the terror group ISIS.
The small gathering Friday held signs that read: "Stand with Kurds in Syria — Not Russia" to bring attention to the unfolding military and humanitarian crisis, while calling on the Salem Democrat and Congress to stand up on the issue of Syria and the Kurds.
"We want our congressman, who has been wonderful on this, to go to the House, and have the House make a statement — send our troops back in to stay allies with the Kurds," said Margaret Summer of Swampscott, who blamed Russia for pulling the strings in this crisis.
The sudden decision by Trump to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria paved the way for a massive offensive by Turkey against the Kurds in an attempt to build a buffer zone on territory now held by the Kurds. Turkey views the Kurdish forces as terrorists.
'Allies to the wolves'
Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran who served four tours in Iraq, has denounced Trump's move. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers also decried the decision as it could upend American foreign policy and national security in the future.
"It undermines all trust," Gamer said. Countries like Japan and those in Europe will be questioning their alliances with the United States, he said, foreshadowing "bad days ahead."
"Ultimately, the finger has to be pointed at Trump," Gamer said.
"I'm here to express my outrage and disgust with our abandoning the Kurds, which were our allies, and I just needed to say how egregious it is," said former Danvers state Rep. Sally Kerans, a Democrat who, like Gamer, blamed Trump for the crisis, saying he made the decision "directly, without consultation in an impetuous, ill-considered move and it's thrown our good allies to the wolves and it's horrible."
Moulton wasn't present for the gathering, but wrote in a recent opinion piece that an immediate concern was 11,000 ISIS fighters being held in prison by the Kurds, prisons that will be overrun now by Turkish troops. He also said the Turkish incursion could lead to the resettlement of 4 million Syrian refugees who have fled the country's eight-year civil war.
"Beyond the physical danger President Trump's decision creates, there is moral danger, too. When America betrays its allies and sides with strongmen, it sends a message around the world that our word and our values are worthless," he wrote.
Moulton's district director, Rick Jakious, did address the group Friday.
"The president talks about 'America first,'" he said later in an interview, "but what that really means is America alone. And we need allies. And you talk to any of our military commanders, you talk to anyone like Seth who has fought in the field, and they say they rely on their allies, they rely on their translators, they rely on people like the Kurds who are fighting side-by-side against ISIS. We can't go it alone."
Jakious told the group that the ultimate decision on whether to remove or restore troops in northern Syria is up to the commander-in-chief, "and he needs to own this problem and frankly fix this problem, and Congress can hold him accountable to doing so and that's what Seth's going to go back and do on Tuesday."
He also said Moulton plans to meet Tuesday morning with a group of Kurdish-American constituents before he flies back to Washington, D.C. The following Saturday, they plan to partner with the New England Kurdish Society and Kurdish students at UMass Boston for a discussion.
Moulton's office has been in touch with the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee about coming up with a package of sanctions on Turkey, according to Jakious.
On Friday afternoon, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced possible sanctions on Turkey that could shut down the country's economy, saying the president was concerned with the potential targeting of civilians, civilian infrastructure, ethnic or religious minorities or allowing ISIS fighters to escape. Mnuchin also said the sanctions had not been activated, yet.
"I think Americans understand you do not bail on an ally, and I actually think Democrats and Republicans alike share passionate outrage on this," said Kerans. "They might not know the intricate politics of that area, but they sure know you don't abandon an ally."
Salem resident Susie Moulton, no relation to the congressman, agreed. She was also the one who organized the small gathering.
"This is an American issue. We stand with our allies. This is a country issue," she said. "Too many of us sit at home and rail away on Facebook. It's important to come out and stand every now and again."
Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.