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2020-09-23t155218z_20709791_rc2f4j9ad172_rtrmadp_3_health-coronavirus-usa-hearing-scaled

Rand Paul to force vote on Syria troop withdrawal

The Republican senator says US solders are in harm's way and have no authority to be there anyway

Middle East

UPDATE 12/8, 12:45 p.m.: The motion to discharge Paul's resolution, which moved to remove U.S. troops stationed in Syria, failed today in the Senate by a vote of 13-84.



Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul's office says he will force a vote in the coming weeks on a bill he introduced this month that could remove all U.S. troops — approximately 900 — from Syria. Sources say a vote could come as early as next week.

"The American people have had enough of endless wars in the Middle East. Yet, 900 U.S. troops remain in Syria with no vital U.S. interest at stake, no definition of victory, no exit strategy, and no congressional authorization to be there," Paul said in a statement provided to RS.

"If we are going to deploy our young men and women in uniform to Syria to fight and potentially give their life for some supposed cause, shouldn’t we as their elected representatives at least debate the merits of sending them there? Shouldn’t we do our constitutional duty and debate if the mission we are sending them on is achievable?"

American forces have been targeted in recent years with rockets and drones by Shia militants who the Pentagon says are directly supported by Iran. Those attacks have increased over the last month and a half after the Oct. 7 Hamas invasion and hostage-taking in Israel. According to the Department of Defense, there have been 66 attacks on U.S. troops in Syria and Iraq since Oct. 17 , with 34 of them in Syria. At least 62 Americans have been injured in both countries.

The Biden administration has authorized limited strikes against targets in both Syria and Iraq, one on Oct. 26 and the other on Nov. 21, in retaliation for those attacks.

Paul's resolution, introduced on Nov. 15, invokes the War Powers Resolution which says the Biden administration is required to remove the U.S. military from hostilities without a declaration of war from Congress. This resolution would remove the troops within 30 days of passage unless the president asks for and receives an authorization for war from the Congress.

Critics like Paul say the Syria operation is not covered by the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs). Nevertheless, the U.S. military has been engaged in kinetic warfare with a number of state and non-state actors there since Obama deployed troops during the Syrian civil war in 2015. Now, the forces remain in harm's way without a clear mission and a war not far from the border in Gaza. From my colleague Adam Weinstein:

The potential for one-upmanship between various Shi’a militias, each trying to prove they’re more hostile toward Americans than the others, is a concerning possibility. A deadly attack on U.S. troops could prompt the Biden administration to respond more forcefully, especially in an election year. What is the administration’s plan to manage escalation and prevent a larger regional war (with heavy U.S. involvement) if this were to occur?

He recommends phasing out the troop presence in the region. As does University of Texas professor Jason Brownlee, who wrote in these pages just this week. He says the oft-used justification that the troops are there to deter and thwart ISIS no longer cuts it:

ISIS has long since been defeated and Operation Inherent Resolve should be shuttered at the first opportunity. The August 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan offers a vivid — if unexpected — precedent for making this timely and prudent shift. This further demonstrates that letting local actors handle Islamic State fighters — and whatever lands those jihadists claimed — will not empower America’s challengers, but can enable a nimbler U.S. foreign policy.

Paul has long fought against this continued deployment, and this isn't the first effort at withdrawal. In the House, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) tried and failed in March this year by a vote of 321-103 to do the same. This is not just a Republican issue. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D.N.Y) has introduced bills and/or amendments in 2021, 2022 and 2023 that garnered bipartisan support, but ultimately failed.

It is not clear whether the increased tensions and attacks due to the Gaza war will make it harder to make the case for removing the troops, or easier. The Biden administration has been building up U.S. military assets in the region for deterrence, though there are critics who say that makes the tensions worse. Dan Caldwell, vice president of the Center for Renewing America and a U.S. Army veteran, called the situation a "national disgrace" in a recent American Conservative article.

"Policy inertia and political cowardice have condemned American service members in Iraq and Syria to serve as soft targets for those looking to punish the U.S. and as trip wires for a larger regional war," he said. "By withdrawing from Iraq and Syria, the U.S. would no longer have to worry about retaliation against vulnerable U.S. troops due to its support of Israel in its war against Hamas."

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) looks on during a U.S. Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Hearing, September 23, 2020. Alex Edelman/Pool via REUTERS
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) looks on during a U.S. Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Hearing, September 23, 2020. Alex Edelman/Pool via REUTERS
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