When President Trump said on Twitter last week that all American troops could be home in Afghanistan by Christmas, he reiterated a target he has eluded for years – and most likely hoped voters will give him more when it comes to it To end military operations, credit for its news than for its results.
Mr Trump has long vowed to leave Afghanistan and, more broadly, end what he calls the United States’ “endless wars” in the Middle East, and to revive a core theme from his 2016 campaign that some data suggests that it may have played a crucial role in his choice.
But with three months in his first term, Mr Trump has brought the last American soldier home from nowhere. While withdrawing thousands of troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, thousands are still risking their lives there – a source of clear frustration for a president hoping to impress voters with clear, unprecedented results.
And although his defenders insist he deserves to avoid major new U.S. intervention, making him the first president in decades, Trump has sent thousands of additional soldiers to the Persian Gulf to respond to growing tensions with Iran some analysts warn that if reelected there could be a hot war. He has also done little to downsize large American military bases in places like Qatar and Bahrain.
“The missing part here is that tens of thousands of armed forces are deployed across the Middle East to support ongoing operations in the region and beyond,” said Dana Stroul, a staff member with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The president has even increased the US military presence in Saudi Arabia. None of these forces were withdrawn during his tenure. His rhetoric is inconsistent with the reality of the US armed forces stationed in the Middle East today. “
Even so, Mr. Trump believes that even the perception of progress in eliminating most Americans from overseas will improve his chances of re-election on an America First platform. He and his campaign supervisors have repeated that message at every turn, from his rallies for the Republican National Convention in August to his Twitter account.
“I’m bringing our troops back from Afghanistan. I’m bringing our troops back from Iraq. We’re almost everywhere, ”he said during a town hall event in September that aired on ABC News. At a campaign rally more than a week later, the president vowed to “keep America out of these endless, ridiculous, stupid foreign wars in countries you have never heard of”.
He reiterated the topic in a tweet before returning to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last week. “PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH (BRING OUR SOLDIERS HOME). VOTE! “Mr Trump wrote when the world became obsessed with his coronavirus diagnosis.
He now presides over 10,000 ground troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria combined, only slightly fewer than the number he inherited at the end of the Obama administration. According to a Pentagon report, the number of deployments Mr. Trump ordered rose to 26,000 by the end of 2017, before declining steadily in recent months.
After President Barack Obama left nearly 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, Mr Trump ordered an additional 3,000 in the country in 2017 before starting a drawdown that has resulted in around 4,500 today. He also increased troop strength in Syria, where American forces fought against Islamic State, from around 500 under Obama to nearly 2,500 before dropping to a current level of 750. In Iraq, troop numbers remained virtually unchanged from the end of the Obama era until last month when the Pentagon said it would reduce nearly half of its armed forces there to 3,000.
According to a June 2017 academic study that found a “significant and meaningful link between a community’s military casualty rate and support for Trump” in the 2016 election, denouncing and ending foreign interventions four years ago was a strong message. The study’s authors, Douglas L. Kriner of Cornell University and Francis X. Shen of the University of Minnesota Law School, concluded that three states closely promoted by Mr. Trump – Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin – “even a slightly Had suffered fewer casualties, Rate all three could have switched from red to blue and sent Hillary Clinton to the White House. “
However, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is a less useful slide than Mrs. Clinton. Although Mr. Biden also supported the Iraq war, it is less closely related to the conflict that Mrs. Clinton had. Mr Biden was also a skeptic of later military actions, arguing within the Obama administration against an increase in troops for Afghanistan in 2009, and opposed US intervention in Libya in 2011.
On his campaign website, on his foreign policy platform, Mr. Biden focuses on rebuilding the United States from within through measures such as educational reform, more humane immigration policies, and protecting voting rights. On a par with Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden also promises to “end the eternal wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East that have cost us untold blood and treasures” and to say that he will “bring the vast majority of our troops home from Afghanistan and.” our mission to Al Qaeda and ISIS will be closely focused. “
Oct 11, 2020 at 1:13 am ET
Perhaps Mr Trump was looking for a clearer contrast with his opponent and raised the stake last week. He surprised senior military and civilian officials with an evening tweet that sped up his time for an American exit from Afghanistan.
“We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE men and women who will be at home in Afghanistan by Christmas!” Mr Trump wrote on Wednesday and appeared to undercut a February deal with the Taliban that required the United States to withdraw fully by next May only if the Afghan insurgent group met key conditions. The tweet also came just hours after Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien told an audience that the United States would reduce its armed forces to 2,500 by early next year.
The White House did not have an official comment, but a senior administration official speaking in the background said Mr Trump had made a clear statement and that the government was under an obligation to execute the commanders at the chief’s request.
However, senior military officials say they had not received a formal order by the end of November to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan to over 4,500.
Philip H. Gordon, who served as the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf Coordinator in the Obama administration, cited the tweet as evidence that political impetus, rather than strategic thinking, is behind Trump’s management of the military.
“You can’t do him the honor of having successfully mastered the drawdown. It was messy and inconsistent and completely unpredictable, ”said Gordon. He recalled the way Mr Trump had repeatedly vowed to withdraw the modest contingent of U.S. forces from Syria, forcing Pentagon planners to look for solutions that have saved a few hundred troops to defeat the Russian and counter Iranian influence, although Mr Trump boasts that the troops are now there to “keep the oil”.
“There are too few troops to get anywhere there – and just enough to get into trouble, as we saw in the recent clouds of dust between US and Russian forces on patrol,” said Ed King, the president and founder of Defense Priorities, a non-partisan Washington group calling for a smaller American military presence overseas. After seven US troops were injured when their armored vehicle was rammed by a Russian in August, the Pentagon sent another 100 soldiers into the country, bringing the American total to 600.
Mr King expressed disappointment that Mr Trump had made no further progress in removing all American troops from the combat areas. But he blamed much of the blame on others, like former Trump National Security Advisor John R. Bolton, adding, “Hope rests with the right staff who can implement some of the rhetorical goals Trump has set out of those some of these guidelines could actually be implemented. “
However, others warn that the opposite could be the case in Trump’s second term.
Mr. Gordon, the author of a new book on failed American efforts to “regime change” in the Middle East, said the president’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran is unlikely to overthrow or force the country’s government to abandon its nuclear power plant program . This could result in a re-elected Mr. Trump being forced to take military action to prevent an Iranian bomb.
“And that would be the end of the end of the ‘forever wars,'” said Gordon.
Eric Schmitt contributed to the reporting.