U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said the abandonment of Kurdish allies in northern Syria is worse than America stepping away from South Vietnam.

"This is undercutting a model that really proved to work: A small American force with people you can rely upon to do the fighting against a common enemy," Graham told reporters in Charleston on Thursday before addressing more than 100 cadets at The Citadel Republican Society. 

"Radical Islam — ISIS and Al-Qaida — are enemies of mankind," South Carolina's Republican senior senator said. "If you think we can protect America 7,000 miles away from the Mideast, good luck with that." 

He also used President Donald Trump's push to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border to make a political point about the reality of foreign policy in the Middle East.

"We're building a wall because we need a wall," Graham said. "We can't build a wall between us and radical Islam."

The comments made by Graham are some of the strongest ones he has made against Trump in recent days after critics said the president essentially gave a green light to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to attack Kurdish forces following their Sunday phone call.

The president abruptly withdrew U.S. troops from northern Syria, exposing Kurdish fighters who had fought alongside American forces in the yearslong battle to defeat Islamic State militants.

The Vietnam parallel is that after years of war and support, in the 1970s U.S. forces scaled back significantly the number of troops in South Vietnam, leaving that nation weakened against communist forces from the North which overran the country. 

On Thursday, Graham said every American ally in the world should be unnerved by the president's actions, saying it has led to chaos in the region.

Asked what the path forward would be in trying to change the president's mind, Graham said he spoke with the president Wednesday night. He advised the president, "Just own it" and reverse course before it's too late.

Graham, usually a close and vocal supporter of the president, also said he rejects Trump's worldview on this issue.

"This is worse than what Obama did. When Obama left Iraq, all hell broke loose. And if you think, Mr. President, ISIS is only a threat to Europe, you really don't understand ISIS," Graham said. 

Sign up for updates!

Get the latest political news from The Post and Courier in your inbox.

Trump, so far, has not backed down from his decision despite opposition from a growing number of members of his own party who fear the move risks reinvigorating ISIS.

Trump has remained solid in his decision. An hour before Graham took questions in Charleston, Trump updated his assessment of the situation in a pair of tweets.

"We defeated 100 percent of the ISIS Caliphate and no longer have any troops in the area under attack by Turkey, in Syria," he said. "We did our job perfectly! Now Turkey is attacking the Kurds, who have been fighting each other for 200 years," Trump wrote. "We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!"

Graham was also asked to address comments of his own about the situation in Syria.

On Thursday afternoon, Politico reported Graham had been duped in a prank phone call in August by Russians pretending to be Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar. In that call, Graham called the Kurds a "threat" to Turkey, which contradicts his public statements in recent days.

Graham brushed it off and doubled down on his defense of the Kurds.

"If you knew anything about what I've said since 2016, I've said a win-win would be to protect the Kurds who fought with us to destroy ISIS who are, in the eyes of Turkey, a threat," Graham said. "So here's what you need to know: This is no hoax. I'm going to do everything I can to crush Erdoğan's economy."

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.