Senate Breaks With Trump on Afghanistan, Syria Withdrawal

Non-binding amendment opposes military withdrawals

In a second vote on last week’s procedural vote, the Senate has once again endorsed the McConnell amendment, which expresses non-binding opposition to the US withdrawing from either Afghanistan or Syria, citing the idea that Iran or Russia might take advantage.

The vote was 70-26, with overwhelming Republican support. The only Republicans to vote no were Sens. Ted Cruz (TX), Rand Paul (KY), John Kennedy (LA), and Mike Lee (UT). Democrats were more split on the matter.

Conspicuously, however, the Democratic Party Senators who opposed the amendment include everyone who has set themselves up to run for president in 2020. They may believe this further splits them ideologically from the Republican Senate leadership.

When the procedural vote on this amendment was passed last week, it was seen as a major rebuke to President Trump. It can be seen as somewhat less-so at this point, as President Trump has been backpedaling on planned military pullouts since then, and talking up keeping at least some troops in the countries.

With Trump seemingly tilting toward their way of thinking at any rate, it is unclear what the amendment’s purpose is at this point, whether the Republican leadership believes it is needed to keep pushing Trump toward their line of thinking, or just doing a victory lap. The danger, of course, is that President Trump’s position on these pullouts seems remarkably malleable, and another round of media coverage on the Senate pushing against his previously stated position might risk shifting the pendulum back toward him defending a pullout.

Either way, the resolution is wholly non-binding. There is no legal basis for them to block a pullout from Afghanistan if a peace deal were reached, and since the Senate never authorized troops to be in Syria in the first place, they definitely have no way to stop them from leaving.

This makes such votes purely for show, with the assumption that President Trump’s opinion may hinge on the vote, and media response that follows. While it’s entirely speculative what is changing Trump’s mind, it’s clear he’s shifted toward keeping the wars going for now.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.