Republican Senators Don't Trust Trump to Handle Foreign Policy, Pointing to Syria and Afghanistan as They Push to Reclaim Authority

GOP senators are pushing back against controversial foreign policy decisions made by Donald Trump, with a vote planned for Thursday afternoon on a measure that would stand in opposition to the president's withdrawal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, the move is seen as a rebuke of Trump, who has shown significant reluctance to listen to military and intelligence officials when making decisions on international issues. Leading Republicans have argued that the legislative branch has lost too much power when it comes to U.S. foreign policy, saying the measure is a step to reclaim that constitutional authority.

"Power over foreign policy has shifted to the executive branch over the last 30 years. Many of us in the Senate want to start taking it back," McConnell said, Washington website The Hill reported.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol, on January 29. GOP senators are pushing back against controversial foreign policy decisions made by President Donald Trump. Win McNamee/Getty Images

The measure, if passed, would warn against the "precipitous withdrawal" of troops from Afghanistan and Syria, which Trump has pushed for against the advice of his advisers and U.S. allies. It argues that the move "could put at risk hard-won gains and United States national security."

McConnell defended the amendment by pointing out that it "simply re-emphasizes the expertise and counsel offered by experts who have served presidents of both parties."

The vote will come a day after Trump publicly called the U.S. intelligence community "naive," arguing that they should "go back to school" following an intelligence hearing on Tuesday. During that session, the chiefs of intelligence agencies met with senators to discuss national security threats. Their assessment on several issues, including North Korea, Iran and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria was starkly at odds with the positions of the president.

While Trump has previously insisted that ISIS has been defeated in Syria, defending his plans to withdraw the U.S. military, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who Trump appointed, said that in fact the group still had thousands of fighters in the Mediterranean nation as well as Iraq. He explained that the extremist organization was looking for a chance to regroup and once again grow its influence.

Trump's surprise announcement in December that the U.S. military would withdraw from Syria drew significant backlash in Washington, with Republican lawmakers among the loudest critics of the move. The decision also led to the resignation of retired General Jim Mattis, who was serving as Secretary of Defense, as well as that of Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy coordinating the international campaign against ISIS. Close U.S. allies also publicly criticized the move, arguing that ISIS still posed a significant security threat. Trump defended the disengagement of U.S. troops, saying Russia, Iran and Turkey could deal with the problem.

The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong! When I became President Iran was making trouble all over the Middle East, and beyond. Since ending the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal, they are MUCH different, but....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30, 2019

....a source of potential danger and conflict. They are testing Rockets (last week) and more, and are coming very close to the edge. There economy is now crashing, which is the only thing holding them back. Be careful of Iran. Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30, 2019

"We've had a couple of rapid-fire shocks to the system," Eric S. Edelman, who served as under secretary of defense under President George W. Bush, told The New York Times. He pointed toward a growing divide between "Republican orthodoxy" and the president's policies.

It's also not the first time that Trump's distrust of his intelligence officials and advisers has come under the scrutiny of GOP lawmakers. Following the grisly murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul at the beginning of October, Trump brushed aside the CIA assessment that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had been aware of and likely ordered the hit. Leading Republicans disagreed, urging the president to take action against the kingdom.

Last July, Trump was also blasted by Republicans after a high-profile summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. At a press conference following the two leaders' private meeting, Trump suggested he trusted the word of Putin over the conclusions of the intelligence community regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. Although Trump later backtracked, saying he misspoke, Republicans and Democrats slammed his "disgraceful" and "disgusting" deference to the Kremlin.