On December 19 President Trump announced that he would be withdrawing all U.S. troops from Syria. This is a step in the right direction and he should be encouraged to carry it out fully.
For years, partners of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Syria have urged an end to all foreign military involvement in the conflict, including U.S. troops. Military actions will never be able to fully defeat a movement like ISIS.
Long-term investment in addressing the root causes that led to support for ISIS and groups like it would be much more effective. This includes meeting people’s basic needs, establishing functional state institutions, and reestablishing trust between communities of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
But many in Washington see Trump’s decision to withdraw troops as a strategic mistake—a debate that has been ignited anew after the deaths of four Americans in northern Syria. As a result, significant questions remain. How soon will the withdrawal happen? Will the U.S. replace troops with contractors, as has happened elsewhere? Will the U.S. carry out airstrikes from bases outside of Syria?
The new Senate has already taken several votes on S. 1, which includes the “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act.” Many see the bill as a way for Congress to signal its discontent with the troop withdrawal, although it does not address that issue directly.
The bill would add more sanctions against Syria, with conditions that would make them difficult to lift. It would also make it more challenging to provide humanitarian assistance. As of this writing, the legislation has not passed for unrelated procedural reasons, but this could change at any point. The House passed the bill on January 22. [UPDATE: The Senate passed S. 1 on February 5. See how your senators voted.]
In addition, many in Congress and the administration have said that they will not fund rebuilding efforts in Syria. This shortsighted stance will punish ordinary Syrians who are trying to put their lives back together.
It is critical that policymakers hear that their constituents want to see a full withdrawal of troops and an end to all military engagement in Syria. Rather than withholding reconstruction funding and trying to increase sanctions, the U.S. should invest in helping Syria’s people rebuild, fully end its military involvement and prioritize finding a diplomatic solution to the conflict.