Amid bipartisan dissent over President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. military forces from both Syria and Afghanistan, the U.S. Senate on Thursday easily advanced a GOP plan rebuking the President for his policy choice and expressing the Senate’s opposition to such efforts, as leading Republicans said an American military withdrawal from those two nations could mean a more potent future threat from Iran or groups like the Islamic State.
“This is a very dangerous situation,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, and the plan for a U.S. withdrawal. “That’s why this is a bad idea.”
“I believe the threats remain. ISIS and al Qaeda have yet to be defeated,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who sponsored the amendment which advanced in the Senate on Thursday afternoon. “American national security interests require continued commitment to our missions there.”
Led by the Majority Leader, the non-binding measure was a rare rebuke of President Trump’s foreign policy decisions, as the Senate voted 68 to 23 to force an end to debate on the McConnell plan, a resolution which warns that a ‘precipitous withdrawal’ would work to the “detriment of United States interests and those of our allies.”
“We can decide not to go after them, but they will come after us,” Rubio said in a speech on the Senate floor questioning the President’s withdrawal plans. “I think it’s a grave mistake.”
The vote fractured both parties, putting some like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) on the same side as the President, while a majority of both parties registered their disapproval of the President’s withdrawal plans.
“Precipitously withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan will deeply harm American interests and security,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
Just before the vote, President Trump was asked by reporters at the White House about U.S. policy in both Syria and Afghanistan – he repeated his assertion that the U.S. is making gains, and that it’s time to bring those missions to a close, especially in Afghanistan.
“We’re going into close to 19 years in being in Afghanistan, and for the first time, they’re talking about settling, talking about making an agreement,” the President said of ongoing talks with the Taliban, as he said it opens the chance to “bring our people back home.”
The President’s withdrawal plans in Syria and Afghanistan have already put him at odds not only with members of both parties in the Congress, but also with top military leaders – as the Syria withdrawal was the main reason ex-Defense Secretary James Mattis was forced out of his post late last year, because he disagreed with the President’s decision.
This vote was maybe the strongest push back yet from GOP Senators to the President’s foreign policy choices, but there were some Republicans who stuck with the President, arguing that the mission had gone on long enough.
“It’s time to declare victory in Afghanistan and bring our troops home,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
“Just because Trump is bungling Syria policy doesn’t mean Democrats should endorse endless war, nor this amendment which asserts American forces are in Syria to fight Iran,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT).
The McConnell amendment on the President’s withdrawal plans is part of a broader Mideast policy bill, which could come to a final vote in the Senate next week.