Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday warned President Trump against pulling U.S. forces out of key positions in Syria, arguing that it “would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime,” which is responsible for thousands of civilian deaths.
McConnell in a statement reminded Trump that the Senate voted earlier this year, with overwhelming Republican support, in favor of a resolution expressing strong opposition to a military withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan.
“The conditions that produced that bipartisan vote still exist today. While the physical caliphate has been removed, ISIS and al Qaeda remain dangerous forces in Syria and the ongoing Syrian civil war poses significant security and humanitarian risks,” McConnell stated.
“I urge the President to exercise American leadership to keep together our multinational coalition to defeat ISIS and prevent significant conflict between our NATO ally Turkey and our local Syrian counterterrorism partners,” he added. “Major new conflict between Turkey and our partners in Syria would seriously risk damaging Turkey’s ties to the United States and causing greater isolation for Turkey on the world stage.”
“As we learned the hard way during the Obama Administration, American interests are best served by American leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal,” McConnell warned on Monday.
It’s a rare break between Trump and McConnell, who is up for reelection in 2020 and has centered his campaign strategy on portraying himself as an essential ally to the president in Washington.
But the disagreement over how to handle the U.S. military presence in Syria and Afghanistan has simmered for months.
The Senate voted 70 to 26 in February for a resolution McConnell authored warning against a precipitous withdrawal of forces from the region.
The issue appeared to die down in recent months as the Senate focused instead on confirming Trump’s nominees, negotiating spending bills and responding to the impeachment push in the House.
It flared unexpectedly on Monday after the White House announced Sunday night Turkey would launch an offensive in northeastern Syria and U.S. troops would not be “in the immediate area” when it happens. The move drew immediate fire Monday from GOP lawmakers, who characterized it as a green light for Turkey to launch combat operations against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces, who have waged the brunt of the fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Trump said that “Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out” and declared “it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home.”