MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

New Bipartisan Senate Bill Expands Syria Sanctions, Condemns Trump's Middle East Troop Withdrawals

The Senate is set to pass a new Middle East policy bill with overwhelming support.

JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS/NewscomJONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS/NewscomToday, the Senate is expected to pass a major piece of foreign policy legislation that awards billions in military assistance to our allies in the Middle East, imposes new sanctions on rivals, and condemns President Donald Trump's plans to start pulling troops out of the region.

Last night, the Senate voted 72-24 to end debate on the Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 or simply S.1, and move it to the Senate floor for a final vote.

The bill, originally introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.), is a grab bag of Middle East-related policies, including stepped-up sanctions on the Syrian government, authorization for $38 billion in military assistance to Israel, and federal authorization for states and localities to refuse to contract with businesses that boycott Israel.

There is wide bipartisan support for S.1, as demonstrated by yesterday's lopsided vote to advance the bill. Critics include liberal Democrats, and the libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.), who took particular issue with the language condemning Trump's plans for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Syria.

"I'm tired of America always doing everybody else's fighting. I'm tired of America always paying for everybody else's war," said Paul in an impassioned floor speech yesterday. "What is the one thing that brings Republicans and Democrats together? War! They love it. The more the better," said the visibly exasperated Paul.

The Kentucky senator suggested that the Senate strip out S. 1's condemnation of the troop withdrawals and replace it with a resolution lauding the president's decision to bring military personnel home.

In addition to the anti-withdrawal language, the bill also makes good on a 2016 Obama administration promise to provide Israel with $38 billion in military assistance and missile defense funding over the next 10 years.

This money is "the largest single pledge of military assistance ever and a reiteration of the seven-decade, unshakeable, bipartisan commitment of the United States to Israel's security," reads the text of the bill.

Versions of this military assistance were passed by both the House and Senate during the last Congress, but had been blocked in the Senate by Paul, who demanded that any increase in foreign aid to Israel be offset by ending financial support to other foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Paul introduced an amendment to that effect yesterday, which was rejected.

Also included in S.B. 1 were enhanced sanctions against the Syrian government and those doing business with it. The bill gives the president the authority to sanction any foreign person who "provides significant financial, material, or technological support," to the Syrian government, senior Syrian government officials, or the country's oil and gas sector.

Selling military aircraft parts to the country is expressly forbidden as well, as is providing construction or engineering services to the Syrian government.

Also incorporated into S.1 is legislation that gives a federal green light for states and localities to refuse to contract with businesses that boycott Israel.

Laws and executive orders forbidding local and state governments from contracting with companies that participate in the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel have passed everywhere from New York to Texas, much to the chagrin of free speech advocates. The ACLU, for example, is currently suing Texas over its anti-BDS law.

Aside from its domestically controversial anti-BDS provisions, S. 1 is largely a continuation of long-running U.S. policy towards the Middle East, says Emma Ashford, a foreign policy scholar at the Cato Institute.

"The bill itself is largely status quo. It maintains an active U.S. military presence in the region, and bolsters funding for allies," Ashford tells Reason, saying that it "does nothing to change or alter America's Middle East strategy."

Significant sanctions have been in place against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria for years now, she notes. There's obviously nothing new about military assistance to Israel.

Still, says Ashford, there is some specific causes for concern in the bill.

The new Syrian sanctions could end up penalizing organizations trying to aid in reconstruction efforts in the country. The Senate's condemnation of the president's decision to pull troops out of a conflict that was never authorized by Congress to begin with, while non-binding, is nevertheless "another step towards abdicating their responsibilities on questions of war and peace," says Ashford.

In short, while the bill that the Senate will likely pass today does not do much to escalate America's role in the Middle East, it also does absolutely nothing to scale it back. That alone makes it a major disappointment for critics of our seemingly endless involvement in the region.

The Senate is expected to vote on S.1 sometime this afternoon, after which it will go to the House for a vote.

Photo Credit: JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS/Newscom

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Today, the Senate is expected to pass a major piece of foreign policy legislation that awards billions in military assistance to our allies in the Middle East, imposes new sanctions on rivals, and condemns President Donald Trump's plans to start pulling troops out of the region.

    Last night, the Senate voted 72-24 to end debate on the Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 or simply S.1, and move it to the Senate floor for a final vote.

    The bill, originally introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.), is a grab bag of Middle East-related policies, including stepped-up sanctions on the Syrian government, authorization for $38 billion in military assistance to Israel, and federal authorization for states and localities to refuse to contract with businesses that boycott Israel.

    This is a veto-proof 2/3 vote, but we'll see what the final Senate vote is and what the House does. Of course, both Houses have to pass 2/3 majority votes to be veto-proof.

    Rubio the neo-con RINO big spender from Florida. He's been blowing the Lefties whistle baby, whistle baby....

  • Don't look at me!||

    $38 Billion for Israel is a go, but shut 'er down for $5 Billion for the southern border wall.
    We live in interesting times.

  • Juice||

    $38 Billion for Israel

    smdh

  • John||

    That is a shocking figure. I would have never guessed it was anything close to that high. $38 billion? I would love to know more about that. Is that just a pay off for defense contractors and us paying for Israel to buy our stuff? It must be something like that because that is insane.

  • Nardz||

    $3.8 billion a year.
    Less than the Ds want to send Honduras and Mexico each.
    Still. Bad.

  • John||

    3.8 is more like it. That is about what I thought it was.

  • Nardz||

    If we spend $5 billion on border security, that's $5 billion we can't send to Honduras... and another $5 billion we can't send to Mexico

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I will be very curious when the final tally comes out how the vote breaks down. This is an explicit call for more war in the face of long overdue movement away from our world policing. Thus, I am fully expecting bipartisan support both for and against it, and it to pass by a wide margin.

  • John||

    It is meaningless for Congress to "condemn Trump" for withdrawing Troops. Congress can stop the President from sending troops somewhere by refusing to fund it. They cannot, however, stop the President from withdrawing troops. The President is the Commander in Chief. He has the inherent authority to use or more importantly not use the military as he sees fit. If the Congress doesn't like that, they can either refuse to fund his military adventures or impeach him. Since you Congress can't use funding to prevent the President from refusing to make war, their only option is to impeach him, which won't happen. They are just grandstanding here.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I'm curious for the philosophical message it sends. As I said below, firm bipartisan support for condemnation of the end of a war is a sorry indicator of the state of national politicians. But we will see.

  • John||

    There is not a shred of support among the voters of either party for staying in Syria. They are not doing it to play to the gallery. They are doing it because if Trump can pull out of Syria, he can pull out of other places. And that costs their defense contractor donors a lot of money.

  • Nardz||

    I hope Trump hammers it in the SOTU tonight.
    Lots of emphasis on leaving Syria and Afghanistan.
    Then Congress can pass a bill to condemn Trump for doing something 2/3rds of the country supports...

  • Just Say'n||

    Means nothing without the House. But, since Democrats have the majority there and they are more motivated by "Orange Man Bad" more than any other thought they could easily pass legislation ending the withdrawal. Which will finally show that Congress is useless at challenging presidents that want to go to war and only good at stopping presidents who don't want war.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    It means something, it is a firm statement from the Senate. Maybe it is ultimately not enforced, but they are taking a philosophical stance about how they believe war should be waged abroad.

  • Just Say'n||

    The only way they want war waged abroad is more of it. This is really the ultimate reason why so many opposed Trump.

  • Lachowsky||

    #resist is just #war

  • Just Say'n||

    And it always has been.

  • JFree||

    I doubt the final vote will be any different from the cloture vote on this bill.

    R's - 49 for, 1 against, the 3 non-voting will all end up for
    D's - 22 for, 22 against, the 1 no-vote (Cantwell) idk
    I's - 1 for, 1 against

    Trump will sign the bill and declare that he won and accomplished everything he set out to do in a Yuuge way

  • Just Say'n||

    One of the three not voting was Paul, because he was out. I imagine he will vote against this. Surprised by the 22 no votes from Democrats. Does the bill forbid transgender surgery or something?

  • JFree||

    Paul voted against the cloture. The three R's who didn't vote were Murkowski, Gardner, Perdue

  • JFree||

    And Dems can vote against it cuz the Prez isn't Dem so they're not getting the warboner pressure from their own party. The only chance of the bill failing is cuz Pelosi won't get 50% of the Dems in the House - and she may have a tough time passing a bill as Speaker if her own party is against it

  • perlchpr||

    MUST HAVE MOAR WAR! WAR IS THE HEALTH OF THE STATE! YOU WANT A HEALTHY STATE, RIGHT?

  • Juice||

    our allies in the Middle East

    Like who?

  • $park¥ is the Worst||

    "I'm tired of America always doing everybody else's fighting. I'm tired of America always paying for everybody else's war," said Paul in an impassioned floor speech yesterday. "What is the one thing that brings Republicans and Democrats together? War! They love it. The more the better," said the visibly exasperated Paul.

    After which some unknown figure in the gallery shouted "Sit down and shut up, Nancy!"

  • Just Say'n||

    Trump will be the peace candidate in 2020. Gillespie owes Block an apology.

  • John||

    He will be. And I suspect that fact is why the establishment of both parties went so mad at the prospect of him being elected. These operations are enormous cash cows. If the US ever walks away from them it will make a whole lot of important people a lot poorer. I never thought I would say it but I have come to the conclusion that these people really do want to make war for profit. They don't even want to win these wars. Quite the opposite. Winning would mean their end. They want these wars to go on forever so they can continue to get rich off of them. Max Boot as much as said so, though he didn't mention the get rich part, in the Washington Post last week.

  • Juice||

    These operations are enormous cash cows.

    This interview has a part where these two guys talk about how the different military branches will decide who their enemy is depending on which strategy allows them to blow billions on stacks of new tanks, missiles, and other expensive toys. Just throwing it out there.

    1/4/19 Matthew Hoh and Danny Sjursen on the Consequences of America's Wars in the Middle East

  • John||

    You can never trust the military's assessment of our enemies. They will always play up their enemies to justify their budget. The problem is that some enemies really are dangerous. So, you can't just dismiss the military but you sure as hell can't just believe them either.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The key is evidently to do what Trump did. He gave the military brass some leeway to put-up or shutup and now he knows which military officers are full of shit and which ones will not violate their oaths of service.

  • JFree||

    No he won't be the peace candidate. This bill shows that 100% of Reps do not want him getting his policy ideas from Rand Paul on the golf course. They may still play golf - but Trump knows his base. They are perfectly fine with permawar and will never question it - but ya just gotta keep pounding on how bad the other side is. NEVER ever let up on how bad the other side is. They are subhuman. We are American. Trump can do that.

  • JFree||

    And the swamp/R's I'm sure have figured out what they did wrong to ever let Trump think the war was over. They let the daily body count drop. Of course he presumed it's over - fewer bad guys being killed and hell if anyone can see what territory they have left. They won't make that mistake again. Just broaden the definition of 'dead bad guy' (anyone who is or was ever in our targets) - maybe expand the rules of engagement a tad (why are we letting the bad guys recruit other bad guys in large crowds just because they all disguise themselves as civilians?).

    If he wants to look at a map (unlikely since he has the military knowledge of a leaf of lettuce) - well hell we got it made. There's a pocket of ISIS here in Syria. Another one in Iraq. And there's another one over here in Afghanistan. And the only reason we can't get our troops from here to there to kill all of em is cuz that Kenyan made peace with EyeRaan.

    Hot damn boys. We'll have ourselves a shooting war yet.

  • Lachowsky||

    "Also included in S.B. 1 were enhanced sanctions against the Syrian government and those doing business with it. The bill gives the president the authority to sanction any foreign person who "provides significant financial, material, or technological support," to the Syrian government, senior Syrian government officials, or the country's oil and gas sector."

    I'm having a hard time remembering just what exactly the Syrian government or it's people have ever done to the citizens of the United states. I dont remember us being attacked by any Syrians.

  • Just Say'n||

    See, to these monsters the Syrian people aren't human, they're just collateral damage. And of course the American soldier is nothing more than a chess piece.

    All these people talking about the dangers of Trump are far more dangerous than Orange Man

  • John||

    The risk of deploying to Syria is low. Max Boot assures me of this and says that no one sent there has a right to complain.

    Monsters is about right.

  • Dillinger||

    so no fuck you cut spending?

  • BYODB||


    ...authorization for $38 billion in military assistance to Israel...


    "Nothing left to cut."

  • Fats of Fury||

    Is this a spending bill? I thought they had to originate in the house.

  • JFree||

    Well if some noodge points that out, I'm sure they can figure out how to add the entire legislation to a bill that originated there. Just like they did for TARP. I hear the Declaration of National Ice Cream Day bill always originates in the House by the critters whose districts encompass the main employers of the National Ice Cream Makers Association.

    What's better with ice cream than watching a war on TV?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    You know who else condemned an early withdrawal?

  • perlchpr||

    YHWH?

  • Slickrick||

    There are very few sane people in Congress these days. Rand Paul is one.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online