Senators Once Critical of Sending U.S. Troops Into Syria Now Want Them to Stay

By Susan Jones | October 14, 2019 | 10:52am EDT
(Photo by ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images)

( - On April 13, 2018, President Donald Trump told the nation he had just ordered the U.S. military to launch precision airstrikes on Syria's chemical weapons facilities, following Bashar Assad's gassing of civilians.

In his announcement, Trump said, "America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria." He promised that as other nations boosted their contributions, "We look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home."

At the time, Trump's missile strikes drew warnings from some lawmakers, including Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

While Assad "must be held accountable" for using chemical weapons, Menendez said at the time, he warned against "any sustained action in Syria" without congressional approval.

In an April 13, 2018 statement, Menendez said: "While we are still learning the details about these strikes, the Administration has not provided sufficient details about its military plans. The President has asserted authority under Article II of the Constitution for these strikes, but any sustained military action in Syria would require Congressional authorization. I expect the Trump Administration to promptly brief Congress on these strikes, their plan for Syria, including countering Russian and Iranian support for the regime, and any future use of military force."

Likewise, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), also a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concern about President Trump launching airstrikes in Syria without congressional authorization:

"Assad must face consequences for his war crimes, but Presidents cannot initiate military action when there isn’t an imminent threat to American lives," Kaine said in an April 13, 2018 statement. "Today, it’s a strike on Syria – what’s going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next? The last thing Congress should be doing is giving this President a blank check to wage war against anyone, anywhere. We need to put clear limits in place before he starts another war, and I’m working to do just that.”

Fast forward to last week, October 7, when Trump announced that he was moving U.S. troops out of northern Syria ahead of a planned invasion by Turkey, a U.S. NATO ally. Trump said he was withdrawing U.S. troops precisely to avoid another war entanglement.

"The United States was supposed to be in Syria for 30 days, that was many years ago. We stayed and got deeper and deeper into battle with no aim in sight," Trump tweeted last week. "I held off this (Turkey-Kurdish) fight for almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home."

In response, Sen. Menendez issued a statement last week blasting Trump for withdrawing U.S. troops and abandoning Kurdish forces in Syria.

"This thoughtless decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Northern Syria comes seemingly at the behest of Turkish and Russian leaders and over the advice of our career military and diplomatic officials," Menendez said.

Menendez also said "the withdrawal of U.S. troops threatens the provision of humanitarian and stabilization assistance."

Sen. Tim Kaine also issued a statement last week, criticizing President Trump's decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria.

"President Trump has left our allies at risk of being slaughtered and spurred massive additional instability in a conflict that desperately needs resolution," Kaine wrote. "His abandonment of the Kurds in northern Syria imperils our gains in the fight against ISIS, puts our troops and diplomats in the region at risk, and plays right into the hands of our adversaries,” Kaine wrote.

On Sunday (yesterday), Trump wondered why members of Congress are not authorizing the use of military force if they want U.S. soldiers to defend the Kurds against Turkey’s attacks:

"Very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border, for a change," Trump tweeted on Oct. 13. "Those that mistakenly got us into the Middle East Wars are still pushing to fight. They have no idea what a bad decision they have made. Why are they not asking for a Declaration of War?"

In two other tweets over the weekend, Trump wrote:

"The Endless Wars Must End!"


"The same people that got us into the Middle East Quicksand, 8 Trillion Dollars and many thousands of lives (and millions of lives when you count the other side), are now fighting to keep us there. Don’t listen to people that haven’t got a clue. They have proven to be inept!"

In remarks to reporters on Oct. 7, 2019 -- the day he announced that he would remove U.S. troops from an area Turkey intended to attack -- Trump told reporters:

Well, we’ve been in Syria for a long time. And it was supposed to be a very short hit, and — hit on ISIS. But it didn’t work out that way. They never left. And they’ve been there for many, many years. And we are — we were down to very few soldiers in Syria. We had 50 in the region that you’re talking about — 50 soldiers — and they’ve been already moved out.

But we’ll see what happens with respect to a lot of different things. We’ve told Turkey — I spoke with President Erdogan of Turkey, and I said, “Got to treat them good, and you got to take care of ISIS.” Don’t forget, we’ve captured — we defeated — this group, largely — defeated ISIS. One hundred percent of the caliphate. One hundred percent. And we wanted to do 100 percent. I was going to do this nine months ago, and we were not at 100 percent, but we were pretty close.

Everyone said, “Can we get to 100 percent?” Now I get to 100 percent, and they say, “Well, maybe we could stay longer.” I say, “Well, when do we get out?” There’s got to be a time we get out. We have to bring our people back home.

And frankly, our great soldiers have been talking about this on the campaign. You go back three years ago and more, and you watch the speeches. We want to bring our soldiers back home. These are the endless wars.

And we’re not fighting; we’re policing, to a large extent. We’re policing in certain areas. We’re not police, we’re — these are fighters, great fighters; the greatest in the world. And that’s what they do.

So I’ve told President Erdogan — I hope he’s going to treat everybody with great respect. You have to understand, they’ve been fighting various of the people that we were working with, and they — Turkey has been fighting them for many years. Somebody said hundreds of years. You had just mentioned to me yesterday, 200 years, maybe more.

At some point, we have to bring our people back home. And that’s what we’re doing.

Since the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, all U.S. military action in the Middle East and Afghanistan has been justified by a 2001 and then a 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

The 2001 AUFM authorized the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determined planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons."

The 2002 AUMF provides the president with authority to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq."

"The 2001 and 2002 authorizations to use military force...remain a sound basis for ongoing U.S. military operations against a mutating threat," former Trump Defense Secretary James Mattis told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in October 2017.


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