President Trump is racing to fulfill his campaign promise to end “endless wars,” with the announcement of new troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, telling a war-weary country that Democratic challenger Joe Biden is a liberal hawk like Hillary Clinton.
“End endless wars: We hear that often, but not too often do we see it actually done,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters at Wednesday’s briefing. “Today, the president and the Pentagon and the Department of Defense are announcing a drawdown of troops in Iraq — just announced from 5,200 to 3,000.”
Speakers at the Republican National Convention hailed Trump for not starting any new wars, but critics countered that he hadn’t ended any and had escalated some ongoing military campaigns. A reporter challenged McEnany on why troops weren’t being withdrawn fully. “These things take time,” she replied. “We want to ensure that the Iraqi security forces are well trained, and our U.S. troops have done a magnificent job doing just that.”
These latest moves may shore up voters who had hoped Trump would extricate American forces from the Middle East. But they also carry some political risk: turning off hawkish Republicans Trump needs in November but without attracting the more liberal antiwar voters who might never cast a ballot for him under any circumstances. Most House and Senate Republicans voted to rebuke Trump for withdrawing troops from Syria at separate times in 2019.
GOP operatives downplayed the likelihood of any backlash from the party’s rank-and-file voters. “It’s another promise made, promise kept,” said Republican strategist John Feehery. “Most neocons are voting for Biden. The bulk of the American people want our troops home. This is smart politically.”
This is not a new position for Trump. He ran in the 2016 primaries arguing that the Iraq War, initially waged by fellow Republican President George W. Bush, was a mistake and frequently targeted rival Jeb Bush, the former president’s brother. Trump has also regularly pointed out that both his Democratic opponents, Clinton and Biden, voted for the war. Biden, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was among the senators standing behind Bush as he signed the authorization of force resolution.
But Trump also tapped many hawkish foreign policy advisers to serve in his administration, most prominently former national security adviser John Bolton, who has since broken with the president. This led to clashes internally over what to do with troops in war zones abroad. Earlier this year, Trump authorized the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
Trump has recently begun to reach out to less hawkish foreign policy voices on the Right. He selected retired Col. Douglas MacGregor to serve as ambassador to Germany and reportedly intends to nominate academic and Koch official Will Ruger for ambassador to Afghanistan. Ruger, a veteran of the Afghan war, favors a total withdrawal from the country. A February agreement between the United States and the Taliban aims to do just that by April of next year.
“Opponents of the president’s withdrawal plan are quick to criticize but have yet to propose a coherent strategy for U.S. military presence in the region that doesn’t involve a persistent, unending state of war,” said Concerned Veterans for America Executive Director Nate Anderson. “That’s irresponsible, out of touch, and totally unacceptable after two decades of failed nation building.”
The group spent $1.5 million in January on a national ad campaign promoting Afghanistan withdrawal. “Those who oppose these withdrawals are also on the wrong side of public opinion, with a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and veterans all supporting ending our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Anderson said. “The president has made a commitment to ending these conflicts, and he must follow through. By completing these ‘forever wars,’ our nation can finally have a debate about forging a new foreign policy that keeps us safe without undermining our national interest.”
Trump said Monday that Biden “shipped away our jobs, threw open our borders, and sent our youth to fight in these crazy, endless wars.” He told Congress last year, “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”
The drawdowns come as a Norwegian parliament member nominated Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in negotiating a peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. But Trump is also enmeshed in controversies over an Atlantic story claiming he disparaged American war dead while overseas — there have been over 20 on-the-record denials — and journalist Bob Woodward’s book quoting the president as describing top generals as a “bunch of p–sies.”
“This reduced footprint allows us to continue advising and assisting our Iraqi partners in rooting out the final remnants of ISIS in Iraq and ensuring its enduring defeat,” U.S. Central Command Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie said in Iraq on Wednesday.
Author: W. James Antle
Source: Washington Examiner: Trump troop drawdown an attempt to keep campaign promise to finish ‘endless wars’