In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced this resolution to require the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria who are currently based there at President Trump’s directive to secure Syrian oil fields, but without a specific congressional authorization:
“Our troops put their lives on the line to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and ensure the safety and security of the American people. President Trump’s deployment of US troops to secure Syrian oil fields that do not belong to us, with talks of welcoming in private oil corporations to take the oil, is unconstitutional and a violation of International Law. Syria’s natural resources belong to the Syrian people. Congress must fulfill its Constitutional mandate and vote for this resolution to bring our troops home from Syria.”
Demand Justice and Just Foreign Policy support this resolution. Just Foreign Policy’s executive director, Erik Sperlng, says:
“Congress has not authorized troops to ‘secure oil’ in Syria or to participate in hostilities against the governments of Russia, Iran, or Syria. Under Article I of the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973, the President cannot deploy troops into hostilities without prior Congressional authorization. I commend Rep. Gabbard for introducing this resolution which will compel all members of the House to vote yes or no on endless war in front of their constituents.”
Rear Admiral William Byrne, the vice director of the joint staff, told reporters in November 2019 that the U.S. mission in Syria was unchanged after the troop drawdown and shift to protecting the oil fields. Byrne said that U.S. troops remained in Syria solely to defeat ISIS in partnership with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF):
“The securing of the oil fields is a subordinate task to that mission. And the purpose of that task is to deny ISIS, the revenues from that oil, infrastructure. I’m not sure ISIS is going away yet. And that’s why we’re there: to help them go away… We’re still going to provide [the SDF] with the support and ability to ... continue the fight against ISIS.”
Nicolas Heras, an analyst on the CNAS Middle East program, says that keeping Syrian oil out of the hands of the Assad regime and its Russian backers is important. He argues that with winter coming, and the regime increasingly desperate for energy supplies, control of the oil supply maintains some leverage in the region.
This resolution passed the House by unanimous vote as part of H.Res.739, sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO).
Of Note: In late 2019, President Trump announced the removal of U.S. troops from northern Syria and their imminent transfer to other parts of Syria and Iraq. In his decision, President Trump contended that the fighting in Syria had “nothing to do” with the U.S.
The decision to withdraw U.S. troops opened the door for Turkey to invade Syria and commence ethnic cleansing of Syrian Kurds, who have been trusted partners in the fight to defeat ISIS. According to The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman, the immediate aftermath of the withdrawal was deadly:
“In just over a week, the violence left hundreds of Kurdish fighters and civilians dead; more than 100,000 people displaced; the near defeat of the Islamic State in jeopardy; and Turkey, Russia, and the Iranian-backed Syrian government carving up territory vacated by the Kurds and the Americans.”
French president Emmanuel Macron criticized Trump’s decision in an interview with The Economist. He argued that when Trump tells him and other European leaders, “It’s your neighborhood, not mine’ … we must hear what he’s saying,” which is, essentially, “‘I am no longer prepared to pay for and guarantee a security system for them,’ and so just ‘wake up.’”
However, Trump’s troop withdrawal wasn’t complete, as he ultimately changed his mind on a complete evacuation of U.S. troops and said some forces would remain, but only to “secure the oil.” In comments on November 1, 2019, Trump said, “We want to bring our soldiers home. But we did leave soldiers because we’re keeping the oil. I like oil. We’re keeping the oil.” Trump also suggested that taking control of Syrian natural resources would be fair “reimbursement” for the cost of going to war in the country.
Earlier, at a gathering of Chicago police officers in late October, Trump said, “We’re keeping the oil — remember that. I’ve always said that: ‘Keep the oil.’ We want to keep the oil. Forty-five million dollars a month? Keep the oil.”
Consequently, according to The Guardian, “hundreds of soldiers” headed for small-scale oil patches Der Ezzor and Hasakah provinces even as hundreds of U.S. special forces were being flown out of the country.
U.S. officials’ unease about the policy was revealed in leaked internal documents. In an internal report obtained by the New York Times, the top U.S. diplomat in northern Syria, William Roebuck, complained that “we didn’t try” to deter the Turkish incursion that had killed thousands of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Jorge Villalba)