POLITICS

Senate GOP Rebukes Trump Over Syria, Afghanistan Withdrawals

Most Senate Democrats likely to or already declared as running for president in 2020 opposed the move.

WASHINGTON ― A big bipartisan majority in the Senate bucked President Donald Trump over his foreign policy in the Middle East on Thursday, expressing their symbolic opposition to Trump’s plans for a quick withdrawal of U.S. troops from their yearslong fight against terrorism abroad.

Trump’s planned drawdown in Afghanistan and total withdrawal from Syria triggered a backlash from the U.S. national security establishment earlier this month, including the resignation of top officials like former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. The surprise troop announcements also alarmed Republicans on Capitol Hill, who managed to convince Trump to delay the pullout of 2,000 troops from Syria for several months to ensure a slow and orderly withdrawal.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 68-23 to advance an amendment offered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a key Trump ally, 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.”

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.

Whether to withdraw from the conflicts could become a big issue in the coming Democratic presidential primary, however. Many likely or declared candidates have struggled to voice a clear position on Trump’s foreign policy moves in the Middle East.

The vote to advance McConnell’s amendment took place just a day after Trump called the heads of his own intelligence agencies “naive” on Twitter for contradicting him about the threats North Korea and the Islamic State pose to the U.S. The tweet came after Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel testified on Capitol Hill.

“Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school,” Trump said in the tweet on Wednesday, which is only the latest example of him ridiculing and refusing to take advice from his own top national security advisers. 

Trump’s public broadsides against the intelligence community ― which follows his denials about the U.S. intelligence community’s assessments regarding the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Russia’s intervention in the 2016 presidential election ― irked GOP leadership in the Senate this week.

“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.

Last year, a big bipartisan majority of senators similarly rebuked the Trump administration over its support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

The president’s tweets criticizing intelligence officials also alarmed Democratic leadership in the House and Senate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote a letter to intelligence leaders this week urging them to stage an “intervention” with Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), meanwhile, said it was “courageous” that intelligence officials “spoke truth to power. ”

“The president doesn’t seem to have the attention span or the desire to hear what the intelligence community has been telling him,” Pelosi said at a Thursday press conference.

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