The House on Wednesday rejected a resolution from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., requiring the U.S. to remove the roughly 900 service members stationed in Syria that some say are beating back terrorists that could threaten the U.S. homeland if left unchecked, but others warn have become mired in Syria’s civil war.
The resolution failed in a 103-321 vote that split both parties. Republicans opposed it in a 47-171 vote, and Democrats rejected it 56-150.
Similar to debates in past years, critics of the decision to place a small force in Syria say that force is there without any authorization from Congress. Officially, they are justified under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that was used to authorize action against those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, but Gaetz and others said Congress needs a more current authority to send troops abroad than one that was passed more than 20 years ago.
They also argued more plainly that the U.S. needs to stop acting as a global police force, and that it should remove itself from a civil war in Syria regardless of warnings that Syria could play a determining role in the strength of ISIS and other terrorist groups.
“I do not believe that what stands between a caliphate and not a caliphate are the 900 Americans who have been sent to this hellscape with no definition of victory, with no clear objective and purely existing as a vestige to the regime change failed foreign policies of multiple former presidents,” Gaetz said.
Others argued that most Americans don’t see a military presence in Syria as a priority.
“No one in my district ever demands, ‘Marjorie, we must go to war in Syria,’” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.
Most other lawmakers on both sides opposed the resolution and say that while they agree Congress should update the AUMF so it can better apply to the situation in Syria, it would be a mistake to quickly require U.S. troops to leave.
“None of us want our soldiers overseas and in harm’s way any longer than is absolutely necessary,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas. “If we withdraw our troops from Syria now, we could see a resurgence of ISIS or another legal successor in short time.”
“This measure forces a premature end to our mission at a critical time for our efforts,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on McCaul’s committee.
These opponents argued that the 2001 AUMF does provide a valid legal justification for the presence of troops in Syria, and that both President Trump and President Obama used that authority to put troops into operation there.
Gaetz introduced his resolution last month, shortly after U.S. Central Command confirmed that four U.S. service members were injured in Syria during a joint operation with Syrian Democratic Forces to kill ISIS leader Hamza al-Homsi.
That admission prompted Gaetz to argue that only Congress has the power to declare war and that Congress has never authorized the use of U.S. troops in Syria.