WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Monday to oppose the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and Afghanistan, breaking with President Donald Trump as he calls for a military drawdown in those countries.
Senators voted 70-26 for the amendment sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The measure says the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda terrorists still pose a serious threat to the United States, and it warns that “a precipitous withdrawal” of US forces from those countries could “allow terrorists to regroup, destabilize critical regions and create vacuums that could be filled by Iran or Russia.”
Trump abruptly tweeted plans for a US pullout from Syria in December, arguing that the Islamic State group had been defeated even though his intelligence chiefs have said it remains a threat. Trump also ordered the military to develop plans to remove up to half of the 14,000 US forces in Afghanistan.
The strong bipartisan vote comes as Republican senators have increasingly diverged from Trump on foreign policy. When he introduced the amendment last week, McConnell said “ISIS and al-Qaeda have yet to be defeated.”
McConnell’s amendment, which is nonbinding, would encourage cooperation between the White House and Congress to develop long-term strategies in both nations, “including a thorough accounting of the risks of withdrawing too hastily.”
Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the amendment was not a rebuke to Trump, though he added, “we can do things over there which will make us safer here.”
While the majority of senators voted for the amendment, a handful of Republicans voted against it. McConnell’s Kentucky colleague, Republican Sen. Rand Paul said before the vote that “enough is enough” and the money spent on wars should be spent at home.
“I want to compliment President Trump for being bold and brave,” Paul said.
Many of the most liberal members of the Senate — including several Democrats who are eyeing presidential runs in 2020 — also voted against the amendment. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and others have agreed with Paul that the United States should withdraw, though they have criticized Trump for his sudden announcement.
McConnell’s provision was added to a wide-ranging foreign policy bill that has been pending on the Senate floor for several weeks. The legislation includes measures supporting Israel and Jordan and would slap sanctions on Syrians involved in war crimes. The Senate is expected to vote on the broader measure later this week.
That bill has split centrist and liberal Democrats due to a provision from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that seeks to counter the global Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel over its treatment of Palestinians and the West Bank settlement enterprise. Israel sees a growing threat from the BDS movement, which has led to increased boycotts of the Jewish state in support of the Palestinians.
That has led to a “boycott of the boycotts” as Israel pushes back against those aligned with BDS.
In support of Israel, Rubio’s measures would affirm the legal authority of state and local governments to restrict contracts and take other actions against those “engaged in BDS conduct.” Several states are facing lawsuits after taking action against workers supporting boycotts of Israel.
Opponents say Rubio’s measure infringes on free speech.