Even in these divided times, there are few who would disagree with the sentiment behind President Trump’s tweeted desire to bring the “BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!”
The president’s campaign promise to end the “forever wars” that began after 9/11 is popular across a broad political spectrum. One version of such a pledge has even been endorsed by U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, considered some of the most liberal Democrats in Congress.
Entering the 20th year of hostilities, we also strongly support resolving these conflicts and removing as many soldiers from harm’s way as possible.
But withdrawing our armed forces, even with the best of intentions, is not something that should be done without careful and deliberate planning by competent military experts to guarantee the safety of our troops, protect our allies and preserve the successes of the mission.
Given the president’s recent purge of the Defense Department, including the firing of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, his chaotic approach to military and foreign affairs and his unhinged response to his election loss to President-Elect Joe Biden, Americans have a right to be deeply concerned over whether any of the required benchmarks are being met.
Alarm is not a partisan or an anti-Trump reaction.
As acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller announced on Tuesday that the United States would be withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia the move had already received strong pushback from many of the president’s strongest congressional supporters, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“The consequences of a premature American exit would likely be even worse than President (Barack) Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq back in 2011,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor on Monday. “It would be reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975. We’d be abandoning our partners in Afghanistan.”
The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee agreed.
“There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this,” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I, said. “President Trump is once again choosing the wrong way, and we can’t let U.S. national security and our relationships with steadfast partners become a casualty of President Trump’s wounded ego.”
This scrutiny by the co-equal branch of government is a welcome first step in making certain that any troop withdrawals are done safely and properly.
The order would reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 and the number of forces in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500 by Jan. 15, only five days before Biden is expected to be sworn into office.
The greatest concern is whether those numbers are sufficient to maintain the peace and guard against new outbreaks of terrorism that would harm our allies and threaten American interest in the region and around the world.
It would help if we could have confidence in the judgment of Miller, the acting Pentagon chief hastily put in place by Trump to replace Esper, who had advised the president that the conditions were not adequate in Afghanistan to support further troop withdrawals and that doing so could undermine peace talks with the Taliban.
This is exactly the kind of situation we feared would happen with a capricious commander in chief disrupting key leadership positions to enforce personal loyalty and get the answers he wants to hear. That is not how it should be done.
Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican leader on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is among those seeking to enforce some accountability on the president’s actions.
“A premature U.S. withdrawal would not only jeopardize the Afghan government’s ability to negotiate, but would endanger U.S. counterterrorism interests,” McCaul said in a statement. “We need to ensure a residual force is maintained for the foreseeable future to protect U.S. national and homeland security interests and to help secure peace for Afghanistan.”
We would like nothing better than for all of our troops stationed in more than 150 countries around the world to be able to share the holidays this year with their families. But that is not possible if we also want to keep striving toward a world at peace and to protect our nation.
Too many lives are at stake to allow hasty and arbitrary decisions based on personal or political purposes. Congress may be limited in what it can do legislatively but it must still ask the hard questions and wield its political leverage to keep a president from weakening the nation, compromising allies and endangering our troops.