Trump’s campaign speech on troop withdrawals does not match military reality

When President Trump said on Twitter last week that all U.S. troops in Afghanistan could return home on Christmas, he reiterated a goal that had eluded him for years – and most likely hoped that when it came to end military deployments, voters would give him more. credit for its posts than for its results.

Mr Trump has long vowed to leave Afghanistan and, more broadly, to conclude what he calls America’s “endless wars” across the Middle East, rekindling a central theme of his 2016 campaign that , according to some data, could have played a crucial role in his election.

But three months into his first term, Mr. Trump has not welcomed home the last American soldier out of nowhere. While he has withdrawn thousands of troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, thousands more still risk their lives there – an obvious source of frustration for a president who hopes to impress voters with results unequivocal and unprecedented.

And although his supporters insist he deserves credit for avoiding any further major US intervention, making him the first president in decades to do so, Mr. Trump has deployed thousands of additional troops to the Gulf. Persian in response to mounting tensions with Iran, which some analysts warn could spill over into a hot war if re-elected. He has also done little to reduce major US military bases in places like Qatar and Bahrain.

“The missing piece here is that tens of thousands of forces are deployed across the Middle East, supporting ongoing operations in the region and beyond,” said Dana Stroul, member of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The president even increased the US military presence in Saudi Arabia. None of these forces were withdrawn during his tenure. Its rhetoric does not match the reality of the American forces deployed across the Middle East today.

Still, Mr. Trump believes that even the perception of progress being made in putting most Americans out of harm’s way abroad will help his chances for re-election on an “America First” platform. He and his campaign surrogates repeated this message at every turn, from his rallies at 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 out of almost every place, ”he said at 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’ve never even heard of.”

He echoed the theme in a tweet hours before returning to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last week. “PEACE THROUGH FORCE (TAKE OUR SOLDIERS HOME). VOTE!” Mr. Trump wrote, as the world obsesses over her coronavirus diagnosis.

He now presides over 10,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria combined, barely less than the number he inherited at the end of the Obama administration. According to a Pentagon report, deployments ordered by Mr. Trump pushed that number to 26,000 by the end of 2017, before declining steadily in recent months.

After President Barack Obama left just under 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, Mr. Trump ordered around 3,000 more in the country in 2017 before starting a withdrawal that has resulted in around 4,500 today. It also increased the level of troops in Syria, where US forces fought the Islamic State, from around 500 under Mr. Obama to almost 2,500 before dropping to a current level of 750. In Iraq, the number of soldiers has remained virtually unchanged since the end of Obama. until last month, when the Pentagon announced it would cut nearly half its staff there, to 3,000.

Denouncing and promising to end foreign interventions was a powerful message four years ago, according to a June 2017 academic study, which found “a significant and significant relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump ”in the 2016 election. The study’s authors, Douglas L. Kriner of Cornell University and Francis X. Shen of the University of Minnesota Law School, concluded that if three states closely supported by Mr. Trump – Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin – “had suffered an even slightly lower loss rate, the three could have gone from red to blue and sent Hillary Clinton to the White House.”

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., however, makes a less useful sheet than Mrs. Clinton. Although Mr. Biden also supported the war in Iraq, he is less closely associated with the conflict than Ms. Clinton was. Mr Biden was also skeptical of subsequent military actions, arguing within the Obama administration against a troop increase in 2009 for Afghanistan and opposing the US intervention in Libya in 2011.

On his campaign website, Biden is focusing his foreign policy platform on rebuilding the United States from within through measures such as educational reform, more humane immigration policies and protection of voting rights. Echoing Mr Trump, Mr Biden also pledges to “end the eternal wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, which have cost us untold blood and treasure”, saying he “will bring back the vast majority of our troops from Afghanistan and will focus closely. our mission on Al Qaeda and Daesh. “

Perhaps seeking a clearer contrast to his opponent, Mr. Trump raised the bar last week, surprising senior military and civilian officials with an evening tweet speeding up his schedule for a US exit from Afghanistan.

“We should have the remaining few of our BRAVE men and women stationed in Afghanistan by Christmas!” Mr. Trump wrote Wednesday, appearing to jeopardize a February deal with the Taliban that committed the United States to a full withdrawal by next May only if the Afghan insurgent group met important conditions. The tweet also came just hours after Mr. Trump’s national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien told an audience the United States would reduce its forces to 2,500 earlier this year. next.

The White House made no official comment, but a senior administration official speaking on the merits said Mr. Trump made a clear statement and the government was obligated to fulfill the Commander-in-Chief’s wishes. .

Senior military officials, however, say they received no formal orders to reduce US forces in Afghanistan beyond 4,500 by the end of November.

Philip H. Gordon, who served as the Obama administration’s Middle East, North Africa and Gulf region coordinator, called the tweet evidence that political impulses, not strategic thinking, were at the origin of the management of the military by Mr. Trump.

“You can’t give him credit for handling the draw successfully. It has been chaotic and inconsistent and completely unpredictable, ”Gordon said. He recalled how Mr. Trump had repeatedly promised to withdraw the modest contingent of US forces from Syria, forcing Pentagon planners to scramble for solutions that preserved a few hundred troops meant to counter Russian influence. and Iranian, although Mr. Trump brags that the troops are now there to “keep the oil”.

“There are too few soldiers to accomplish anything there – and that’s just enough to get in trouble, as we’ve seen with the recent dust spurts between US and Russian forces on patrols. Said Ed King, President and Founder of Defense Priorities. , a non-partisan Washington group calling for a reduced US military presence abroad. After seven US soldiers were injured when their armored vehicle was struck by a Russian vehicle in August, the Pentagon sent another 100 soldiers to the country, bringing the US total to 600.

Mr King expressed his disappointment that Mr Trump had not made more progress in withdrawing all US troops from combat zones. But he put a lot of the blame on others, like Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser John R. Bolton, and added that “hope is with the right staff who can put it in. implement some of the rhetorical goals that Trump has articulated, which some of these policies might in fact achieve. “

But others warn that in a second term for Trump, the opposite could be true.

Mr Gordon, the author of a new book on the failure of US efforts to achieve “regime change” in the Middle East, said the president’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran was unlikely to overthrow the country’s government or force it to give up nuclear power. program. This could force a re-elected Mr. Trump to resort to military action to prevent an Iranian bomb.

“And that would be the end of the end of ‘wars forever’,” Gordon said.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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