The Republican-held Senate's first order of business as it reconvened on Friday for 2019 was to push back against President Trump's planned Syria withdrawal, as the first bill Republican leadership introduced, led by hawk Marco Rubio, is being described as "an implicit rebuke" of the president's Syria policy.
Senate Bill 1, expected to be one of the first pieces of legislation under consideration of the new Senate, was introduced Thursday by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is being co-sponsored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch of Idaho. Sen. McConnel subsequently announced this means Congress is finally set to debate Syria policy; however ironically at the very moment Trump is attempting a "full" and "immediate" pull out of some 2,000+ US forces. This after US officials reiterated on Friday that "no fixed deadline" for troop withdrawal has been given and they would seek to ensure "no power vacuum" in previously occupied northeast Syria would remain.
NBC describes the proposed legislation, which focuses on a new round of sanctions against Damascus, as follows:
Although Congress can't force the commander-in-chief to keep troops in Syria, Senate aides say the move is designed to illustrate the need for a strong, continuing U.S. presence in the Middle East and re-assert the role of Congress on national security. It comes as many of Trump's GOP allies have joined Democrats in deploring his announcement of a Syria withdrawal without consulting allies and lamenting the subsequent resignation of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
The Senate is moving quickly to assert its point-of-view on U.S. policy regarding Syria and in the broader Middle East, and it could serve as a rebuttal to the decision by President Donald Trump to pull back U.S. forces from Syria.
Of note is that Congress is only attempting to "re-assert" its role on national security the moment a US president is seeking to pull out of the Middle East.
Statements by the bill sponsors referenced consulting "steadfast" allies first. While naming Israel and Jordan specifically, Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch said, “This package of legislation is an important step toward finishing the work of the last Congress. Israel and Jordan have been steadfast allies of the United States that deserve this support.”
Also noticeable was the complete lack of appeal to American self-defense and the unpopularity among the American public of remaining in Syria, according to recent polls.
Sen. Risc continued to cite foreign allies first and foremost as necessitating the bill: “Also, it is vital to confront Syrian government atrocities and end discrimination against Israel," he said while calling for it to move forward rapidly.
And well-known Iran hawk Sen. Rubio echoed the same:
It is in America’s national security interests to ensure that our allies in the Middle East like Israel and Jordan remain secure amid the region’s growing destabilizing threats posed by Iran and Syria’s Assad regime...This important bill will also impose new sanctions against the Assad regime and its supporters who continue to commit horrific human rights violations against the Syrian people.
On Wednesday President Trump altered his language after immense pushback in Washington, saying the US will get out of Syria "over a period of time" and in such a way that will protect America's Kurdish partners on the ground, at a moment pro-Turkish forces backed by Turkey's army are set to invade and annex Kurdish enclaves in the north of the country.
Notably, Trump also told reporters on Wednesday: “Syria was lost long ago. we’re not talking about vast wealth. we’re talking about sand and death,” while also noting: “It’s not my fault. I didn’t put us there.”
But it appears senators like Rubio, McConnell and Risch want to come keep the US there indefinitely, continuing what's unfortunately becoming an American tradition of "forever wars" and quagmires.