(Photo credit: Getty Images)
A War Powers Resolution that would have ended the US army’s illegal occupation of Syria was struck down late on 8 March by the House of Representatives in a 103-321 vote.
The bill, introduced late last month by Republican Matt Gaetz, garnered the support of 47 Republicans and 56 Democrats – including several members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC).
“There is no role for the United States of America in Syria. We are not a Middle Eastern power. We have tried to build a democracy out of sand, blood, and Arab militias. Time and again, the work we do does not reduce chaos. Oftentimes, it causes chaos – the very chaos that then subsequently leads to terrorism. While today’s vote may have failed, my fight to end forever wars and bring our troops home has only just begun,” Gaetz said in a statement following the vote.
“We have to also acknowledge Syria and Iraq are the two countries on the planet Earth where we have done the most to fund ISIS. We give weapons to these so-called moderate rebels,” Gaetz continued, referring to Washington’s policy to arm rebel groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
“The United States is not the world’s policeman, and it is incredibly unwise to promote this level of involvement in international disputes … Continuing to dump trillions of dollars into these endless wars is irresponsible, runs contrary to America’s economic and security interests, and unnecessarily places American lives in jeopardy,” Republican lawmaker Cory Mills said during the debate on the house floor.
Had the bill been approved, the White House would have had six months to withdraw all troops from Syrian soil. Around 900 US troops are currently deployed in the Levantine nation, controlling nearly a third of the country and a large portion of its oil fields.
Their deployment is illegal under international law as it was not approved by the government in Damascus. Moreover, former US presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump deployed the troops without congressional approval, abusing the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed in 2001 in the wake of the 11 September attacks.
Lawmakers who voted on Wednesday to maintain the occupation argued that a withdrawal from Syria would mean the “revival” of extremist groups.
“The hard truth is this, either we fight [ISIS] in Syria, or we’ll fight them here … in the streets of our nation,” Republican Ryan Zinke proclaimed.
Referring to ISIS, @RepRyanZinke (R-MT) says we can't withdraw from Syria because "either we fight 'em in Syria, or we'll fight 'em here… in the streets of our nation."
Did he borrow this line from what Adam Schiff said about Russia? (https://t.co/kZxjDLlpm6) pic.twitter.com/7Zx9LDvmxH
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) March 9, 2023
While the CIA was tasked with arming and training extremist groups in Syria since late 2012, US troops officially entered the fray once Damascus asked for Russia’s help to push back against ISIS in 2015.
Seeing the gains the Syrian and Russian armies made against ISIS and other armed groups, the US partnered with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to create the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), effectively starting a race for control of Syria’s resource-rich Deir Ezzor and Hasakah governorates.
As the Washington Post reported in 2018, after the defeat of ISIS, “the [Trump] administration switched course, saying the troops will stay in Syria pending an overall settlement to the Syrian war and with a new mission: to act as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence. That decision puts US troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.”
Syria analyst Jennifer Cafarella of the Institute for the Study of War noted the importance of continuing the US military occupation. She observed that “Whether Washington chooses to admit it or not, the US now has direct influence over the vast majority of Syria’s most productive oil fields,” and that the territorial gains of the SDF “are Syrian national treasures that when added up, amount to brute geopolitical power for the US.”