The Senate began a bipartisan effort to stymie U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan on Jan. 31. A vote of 68-23 cleared the way for an amendment — to a broader Middle Eastern security policy bill — written by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to pass. The amendment is written as such:
“To express the sense of the Senate that the United States 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.”
With this amendment, we could potentially see a list of conditions regarding the status of the Syrian and Afghan conflicts that would need to be met in order to authorize our military’s departure from the region. This would ensure that no hasty decisions are made on the matter. The general tenor of this amendment is certainly appropriate. The nature of the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan are still overwhelmingly precarious and far from resembling any sort of absolute or lasting victory (which seems to be Trump’s stated view). A debacle comparable to post-2011 Iraq could be a likely consequence of aborting our mission in Syria and/or Afghanistan.
The announcement of Trump’s decision to begin sending troops home came in late December via Twitter, much to the shock and chagrin of members of Congress and the President’s cabinet. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) rebuked the decision, saying that it “came out of left field” and seemed to go against the wisdom of most (if not all) of Trump’s top advisers on the matter. Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned shortly after mainly because of his disagreement with the policy. Prior to the announcement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly believed that conditions were “not right yet to leave.” National Security Advisor John Bolton and top envoy for Syria James Jeffrey had publicly assured that U.S. forces would remain in Syria as long as Iranian forces and their proxies did.
In his published letter of resignation, Mattis rightly insists on the importance of respecting our alliances and being “resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours.” A departure from Syria would almost certainly make our Kurdish allies incredibly vulnerable, while also increasing Russia and Iran’s influence in the region.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, catastrophe looms just as close. A January 2019 RAND Corporation report presents a slew of bad potential consequences of departure from the country. Among the most threatening are the almost certain enhancement of ISIS and Al Qaeda’s size and capabilities that would be allowed to happen in our absence. It also concludes that backing out on our commitment to the country would weaken our credibility with our allies (as well as our enemies), echoing Mattis’ sentiment.
In his video announcement, Trump points to the sky and affirms: “that’s the way they want it,” in reference to the 2,372 American soldiers that have been killed in action in Afghanistan and Syria since 2001. But this can not be. With these potential troop withdrawals, Trump is putting at risk just about everything which these 2,372 heroes had fought and died for. We cannot allow their sacrifices to be rendered so vain. This new era of warfare is unique and unprecedented in terms of the necessary duration of each conflict–which is why it is so crucial for us, as a nation and as a military force, to find the strength to persevere.