WASHINGTON ― The U.S. Senate on Monday voted overwhelmingly to approve a symbolic resolution urging President Donald Trump not to proceed with plans for a hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops from their yearslong fight against terrorism abroad.
Every Senate Democrat who is likely to or who has already declared as running for president in 2020 opposed the resolution, effectively endorsing Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
The U.S. national security establishment reacted with alarm earlier this month after reports broke out about Trump’s plans for an immediate and total withdrawal of troops from Syria, as well as a drawdown of thousands of troops in Afghanistan. The surprise change in policy led to the resignation of several top officials, including former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, as well as vocal opposition from some of the president’s biggest allies on Capitol Hill.
While Trump ultimately decided to delay the pullout of 2,000 troops from Syria for several months to ensure a slow and orderly withdrawal, the move failed to quell concern from top Republicans in Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced an amendment last week that expressed the sense of the chamber that the U.S. “faces continuing threats from terrorist groups operating in Syria and Afghanistan” and that the “precipitous withdrawal of United States forces from either country could put at risk hard-won gains and United States national security.”
It passed on Monday by a 70-26 vote with the help of a big bipartisan majority. Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and Bernie Sanders (I-V.t) opposed the measure. Many of those senators have approached Trump’s foreign policy with caution, expressing criticism dealing with stylistic rather than substantive matters.
While the amendment is a nonbinding provision without the force of law, it sent a clear message to the White House that any plans to immediately pull troops out of war zones could jeopardize the fight against groups like the so-called Islamic State, leave Kurdish allies on the ground defenseless, and embolden U.S. adversaries like Russia and Iran.
Senate Republicans seldom buck Trump on anything, but they have become increasingly agitated lately over his administration’s foreign policy. Last week, many top GOP senators voiced concern after Trump called the heads of his own intelligence agencies “naive” for contradicting him about the threats North Korea and the Islamic State pose to the U.S.
“I don’t know how many times you can say this but I prefer the president would stay off Twitter — particularly with regard to these important national security issues,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, told reporters on Wednesday.
During his pre-Super Bowl interview with “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Trump was asked by CBS host Margaret Brennan about his decision to seek drawdowns in the Middle East after previously criticizing President Barack Obama for telegraphing his military moves in the region.
“There’s a difference. When President Obama pulled out of Iraq, in theory, we had Iraq. In other words, we had Iraq. We never had Syria because President Obama never wanted to violate the red line in the sand. So we never had Syria,” Trump said in the interview.
Trump also said he wants to leave troops in Iraq, however, in order to keep an eye on the regime in Iran.
“We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It’s perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up,” he added. “And this is what a lot of people don’t understand. We’re going to keep watching and we’re going to keep seeing and if there’s trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we’re going to know it before they do.”