As 25 Democrats voted with the GOP on Thursday to pass Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) resolution condemning President Donald Trump's troop withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) dissented from the bipartisan commitment to "fueling forever wars" and argued that Congress must work to end overseas conflicts instead of inventing "more reasons to continue them."
"It is the job of Congress to responsibly end these military interventions and bring our troops home, not to come up with more reasons to continue them, as this amendment does. That is why I voted against it."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
While slamming Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan without coordinating with allies as "reckless," the Vermont senator said in a statement explaining his no vote that the "American people do not want endless war" and urged Congress to use its constitutional authority to bring perpetual conflicts to a close.
"American troops have been in Afghanistan for nearly 18 years, the longest war in American history. Our troops have been in Syria since 2015 under what I believe are very questionable legal authorities," Sanders declared. "The American people do not want endless war. It is the job of Congress to responsibly end these military interventions and bring our troops home, not to come up with more reasons to continue them, as this amendment does. That is why I voted against it."
"President Trump's abrupt announcement last month that he would withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan was typical of his reckless approach—an approach that left our international partners blindsided and questioning U.S. leadership," the Vermont senator continued. "Congress must play a role, consistent with its constitutional authority over war, in developing a troop withdrawal plan that is coordinated with our allies, that continues to provide humanitarian aid, and that supports political settlements in these countries."
Anti-war voices were quick to slam the more than two dozen Democrats who opted to ignore grassroots pressure and vote for McConnell's resolution, which easily sailed through the Senate by a margin of 68-23.
In addition to Sanders, 19 Senate Democrats and two Republicans voted against the nonbinding amendment. See the full roll call here.
When it comes to fueling forever wars, there’s always bipartisanship. https://t.co/8rNbifE7D9
— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) February 1, 2019
Chuck Schumer has a unique talent for voting against all the bad GOP bills Dems support, while also refusing to whip his caucus so they always pass https://t.co/B4xJwpLboZ
— Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) February 1, 2019
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Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who joined Sanders in voting against McConnell's measure, argued that Trump's demonstrated foreign policy incompetence is not an excuse for the Democratic Party to support perpetual wars.
"Just because Trump is bungling Syria policy doesn't mean Democrats should endorse endless war, nor this amendment which asserts American forces are in Syria to fight Iran," Murphy wrote on Twitter as he headed to the Senate floor to speak against the measure.
I’m heading to the Senate floor right now to speak against Senator McConnell’s Syria amendment.
Just because Trump is bungling Syria policy doesn’t mean Democrats should endorse endless war, nor this amendment which asserts American forces are in Syria to fight Iran.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 31, 2019
The Senate's vote to approve McConnell's amendment ensures that it will be added to Senate Bill 1 (S.1), a broad Middle East foreign policy package that also includes a widely condemned measure that would punish companies and individuals who participate in boycotts of Israel. The ACLU has called the anti-boycott bill "unconstitutional."
"Congress doesn't have to have to cosign Trump foreign policy trial balloons, but they ought to articulate their own responsible withdrawal plan that replaces U.S. troops and airstrikes with smart diplomacy and targeted humanitarian aid."
—Jon Rainwater, Peace Action
The passage of McConnell's resolution comes just a week after 32 House Democrats sent a letter to Trump expressing support for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Syria, but arguing that a "comprehensive diplomatic, political, and humanitarian strategy" is necessary to mitigate the risks of rapid withdrawal.
"Prioritizing stabilization and reconstruction, as well as ensuring the access of humanitarian aid organizations to civilians, is vital to protecting the Syrian people and preventing a renewal of violence that could encourage the resurgence of extremist groups like ISIS," the Democrats wrote. "Most immediately, the United States must use our leverage with Turkey to prevent further military incursions into Syrian territory, particularly those targeting Kurdish communities there."
Jon Rainwater, executive director of Peace Action, argued that Trump's Syria and Afghanistan withdrawals offer House Democrats an opportunity to put forth their own plan for withdrawal that contrasts with the president's haphazard approach.
"Congress doesn't have to have to cosign Trump foreign policy trial balloons, but they ought to articulate their own responsible withdrawal plan that replaces U.S. troops and airstrikes with smart diplomacy and targeted humanitarian aid," Rainwater told Common Dreams.