U.S. troops patrol in the countryside of Syria's Hasakeh province

U.S. troops patrol in the countryside of Syria's Hasakeh province near the Turkish border on February 18, 2023.

(Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images)

Progressives Back Bipartisan Push to End US Military Presence in Syria

"We strongly urge all offices to vote 'yes' on the Syria War Powers Resolution in accordance with the Constitution," said the policy adviser for the watchdog group Demand Progress Action.

The leadership of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and outside advocacy groups are urging lawmakers to vote yes Wednesday on a war powers resolution aimed at ending the United States' yearslong troop presence in Syria.

Led by Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, the resolution instructs the president to withdraw all remaining U.S. forces from Syria within 180 days of passage unless Congress debates and authorizes an extension of the occupation, which began in 2015 during the Obama administration.

More than 900 U.S. troops and hundreds of contractors are currently in Syria, and the Pentagon insists they are still needed in the country to prevent a resurgence of ISIS—a claim disputed by the official who served as the Obama administration's ambassador to Syria.

In a Tuesday note urging its more than 100 members to back the Gaetz resolution, the Congressional Progressive Caucus leadership wrote that "this measure to remove unauthorized deployment of U.S. Armed Forces in Syria unless a specific statutory authorization is enacted within six months is largely consistent with previous bipartisan efforts led by CPC members to terminate such unauthorized military presence within one year, for which 130 House Democrats voted yes last year."

Cavan Kharrazian, policy adviser for the watchdog group Demand Progress Action, said in a statement Wednesday that "while we are disappointed that Representative Gaetz did not consult the bipartisan group of organizations advocating for a Syria War Powers Resolution on the timing, language, and approach of this bill, and did not obtain an original cosponsor from across the aisle, we still fully support the policy outlined in H.Con.Res.21."

"Given that U.S. servicemembers remain in harm's way in Syria, triggering the need for a congressional vote under the War Powers Resolution, Congress owes it to them, their families, and the American people to have a serious, public debate and vote over our endless mission in Syria," said Kharrazian. "We strongly urge all offices to vote 'yes' on the Syria War Powers Resolution in accordance with the Constitution, the War Powers Resolution of 1973, and the broader bipartisan mission to reevaluate and end our endless wars overseas."

The advocacy group Just Foreign Policy echoed Kharrazian, noting that a similar measure led by Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York last year garnered 155 House votes—not enough to pass the chamber.

"We're hopeful that Rep. Matt Gaetz's [war powers resolution] will spur more House Republicans to oppose endless war in Syria," the group wrote on Twitter.

A vote in the Republican-controlled House is expected Wednesday afternoon.

"Given that U.S. servicemembers remain in harm's way in Syria, triggering the need for a congressional vote under the War Powers Resolution, Congress owes it to them, their families, and the American people to have a serious, public debate and vote over our endless mission in Syria."

Also backing the resolution is Robert Ford, the Obama administration's Syria ambassador who previously supported U.S. intervention in the country.

In a letter to Congress obtained by The Intercept, Ford wrote that "after more than eight years of military operations in Syria there is no definition of what the 'enduring' defeat of ISIS would look like."

"We owe our soldiers serving there in harm's way a serious debate about whether their mission is, in fact, achievable," Ford added.

While President Joe Biden has not added to the U.S. troop presence in Syria, he has authorized special forces operations and several airstrikes in the country without congressional approval, drawing criticism from progressive lawmakers and foreign policy analysts who argued the actions lacked legal authority.

"This is not an ambiguous case," Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said after the U.S. military carried out airstrikes in 2021. "The administration’s actions are clearly illegal under the United States' law and under international law."

Khanna, a member of the CPC, wrote on Twitter late Tuesday that he is a yes on the Gaetz resolution.

The Intercept's Ryan Grim noted Tuesday that "in 2019, Gaetz and a handful of other Republicans backed President Donald Trump's push for an end to the U.S. presence there and were joined by [Rep. Ilhan] Omar and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who bucked their party to back Trump's proposed withdrawal."

"Trump, while urging a withdrawal, also said he'd leave behind a force to 'keep the oil," Grim continued. "He suggested a major American firm like ExxonMobil would come in to exploit Syria's oil, but so far, no big American company has been involved, and the Kurds are exporting oil largely in collaboration with al-Assad's government."

Omar, the deputy chair of the CPC, told Grim that while she wishes "Gaetz worked more closely with the coalition of groups that have been working on this and the CPC," she plans to vote yes on the Syria war powers resolution.

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