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When President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, Republican leaders mostly played to form.
Democrats – not as much.
Republican hawks blasted Trump.
“The decision to withdraw an American presence in Syria is a colossal, in my mind, mistake – a grave error that’s going to have significant repercussions in the years and months to come,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who has come under criticism for his close cooperation with Trump on a number of issues, demanded congressional hearings.
“If these media reports are true, it will be an Obama-like mistake made by the Trump Administration,” he said in a statement. “While American patience in confronting radical Islam may wane, the radical Islamists’ passion to kill Americans and our allies never wavers.”
Meanwhile, libertarian-leaning, non-interventionists in the GOP praised the president.
“Good. U.S. forces should not be engaged in Syria – or any country – without legitimate military justification AND proper congressional authorization,” tweeted Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.).
And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tweeted, “I am happy to see a President who can declare victory and bring our troops out of a war.”
In other words, the reactions were consistent with those lawmakers’ long-standing foreign policy views.
Many Democrats and liberals, however, reacted as if Trump had announced he was giving Alaska back to Russia.
Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested that Trump’s decision was a ploy to distract the country from the legal troubles of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and hinted at hearings to challenge the withdrawal.
“The deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Syria remains a stain on the conscience of the world,” she said in a statement. “Syrian families caught in the middle of this conflict continue to endure heartbreaking horrors every day.”
This would be the same Pelosi who eight months ago took Trump to task for failing to ask Congress for permission to bomb Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack.
“The President must come to Congress and secure an Authorization for Use of Military Force by proposing a comprehensive strategy with clear objectives that keep our military safe and avoid collateral damage to innocent civilians,” Pelosi said in a statement in April.
Of course, neither Trump nor former President Barack Obama got congressional authorization to insert troops on the ground. Today, the U.S. has about 2,000 troops there and – according to a Washington Post report this week – occupies roughly a third of the country.
Pelosi now describes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a vicious dictator, but that did not prevent her from leading a delegation of Democratic lawmakers to meet with him in 2007 – over the objections of then-President George W. Bush.
“We came in friendship, hope and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Pelosi told reporters after the trip.
Then-Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) called it “only the beginning of our constructive dialogue with Syria.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) is another Democrat who has argued both that Trump is wrong to withdraw troops – who are in Syria without authorization – and that Trump was wrong to strike Syria in April.
Back then, the senator tweeted that acting without Congress was “unacceptable.” On Wednesday, he tweeted that the “decision only underscores that the Administration has no plan for Syria other than allowing Vladimir Putin to dictate U.S. policy. President Trump’s Russia-first policy in the Middle East is harming U.S. national security.”
Colin Kahl, a foreign policy adviser in the Obama administration, tweeted that Trump’s decision reeked of “incoherence” – a rich criticism coming from an alum of an administration that infamously warned that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and then did nothing when Assad crossed it.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) demanded to know what Trump’s strategy is.
“American troops deserve to know that you have one, and the American people deserve transparency from their commander in chief. Explain yourself. #Syria,” he tweeted.
Cardin offered no thoughts on Twitter about what that strategy should be, and he issued no public statements on the matter.
Cardin has been on both sides of the question of U.S. soldiers in the Middle East, oscillating as the occupant of the White House has changed. As a representative, he voted against the resolution authorizing war in Iraq and later called for then-President George W. Bush to pull the troops out.
As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2013, though, Cardin voted to authorize intervening in Syria. The resolution never passed the Congress, but the Obama administration intervened anyway, ordering airstrikes against Islamic State fighters inside the country. It does not appear as though Cardin ever publicly criticized Obama for that move.
To be sure, there are good arguments on both sides of the debate. From the perspective of hawks, leaving Syria could allow ISIS to re-emerge and let Assad consolidate his power. Leaving also undermines Trump’s own policy of isolating Iran by strengthening its two strongest allies, Syria and Russia. And it would abandon the Kurdish fighters who have been strong American allies.
On other hand, Americans have spent trillions of dollars and have watched U.S. service members die during two decades of constant war and have little to show for it.
Trump has been consistent about his views. He campaigned on an America First platform of disengaging from Middle East conflicts. And in March – just before the Syrian regime used chemical weapons – the president told an audience in Ohio that troops would “be coming out of Syria, like very soon.”
One would expect Democrats to remain consistent, as well. Some have. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a fierce Trump critic, still found cause to praise Trump’s decision.
“I applaud the decision by @realDonaldTrump,” he tweeted. “Neither the Obama Administration nor the Trump Administration had a strategy. Neither Administration could articulate why we were in Syria, what the end state would be, and how we would achieve it.”
But for many others, politics seems to be the guiding principle.