During his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump pledged an imminent withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan, promising to “give our brave warriors” a “warm welcome home.”
But just one day prior, the Senate voted on a measure that opposes troop withdrawal from both countries—setting the stage for a showdown between the president and members of his own party over a suitable foreign policy for the Middle East. The sponsor of the legislation? Mitch McConnell.
First introduced by McConnell last week as an amendment to The Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act—a package which includes military support for Israel and Jordan—the measure warns that a “precipitous withdrawal” of U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan could “allow terrorists to regroup, destabilize critical regions and create vacuums that could be filled by Iran or Russia.” Speaking from the Senate floor last week, McConnell said that, “while it is tempting to retreat to the comfort and security of our own shores, there is still a great deal of work to be done [in Syria and Afghanistan].”
Monday’s vote in favor of the senate majority leader’s amendment, by an overwhelming majority of 70-26, further pits Trump against the conservative foreign policy establishment. Although a handful of Republican lawmakers, including Senator Rand Paul (R-K.Y.) voted against the the measure, the bill in its entirety was approved by the Senate on Tuesday by a margin of 77-23. Other provisions in the package include sanctions against Syria’s central bank and a measure opposing the Israel boycott—the latter of which was also a late inclusion.
Despite Trump declaring victory in Syria via tweet, details about an exact withdrawal timetable remain vague. Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, General Joseph Votel said the United States was “not under pressure to be out by a specific date.” Coupled with McConnell’s policy push, Trump is vexed by multiple parties to turn his State of the Union promise into reality.