Senate passes Middle East policy bill rebuking Syria troop withdrawal

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/official portrait

Feb. 6 (UPI) — The Senate passed a Middle East policy bill Tuesday that includes a rebuke of President Donald Trump‘s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

Senators voted 77-23 to pass the bill, which imposes new sanctions on Syria, increases U.S. military alliances with the neighboring countries of Israel and Jordan, and includes a provision allowing states and local governments to withhold contracts from companies that participate in the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the bill “reaffirms our promise to uphold Israel’s security, to help Jordan face complex security challenges and to hold Bashar Assad‘s murderous henchmen accountable.”

Before the vote, Gen. Joseph Votel, the top military officer in charge of operations in the Middle East, told Senate lawmakers he wasn’t consulted before President Donald Trump announced a U.S. withdrawal from Syria.

Votel added that the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Afghanistan “is not over and our mission has not changed.”

McConnell, who was responsible for introducing the amendment rebuking Trump’s decision to withdraw thousands of troops from Syria and Afghanistan, echoed Votel’s assessment.

“ISIS and al Qaeda have yet to be defeated. And American national security interests require continued commitment to our missions there,” McConnell said, using an abbreviation for the Islamic State terrorist group.

The bill received bipartisan support, although it caused a rift among Democrats as 25 voted in favor of the bill and 22 voted against it.

Opponents of the bill argued that the Israel boycott provision in the bill limits free speech by allowing a company to lose business for participating in the protest.

The bill must still be passed by the Democrat-controlled House before being sent to Trump for approval.


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