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Top Story from Robert Burns and Lolita Baldor of the Associated Press: “Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said Tuesday the U.S. will reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-January, asserting that the decision fulfills President Donald Trump’s pledge to bring forces home from America’s long wars even as Republicans and U.S. allies warn of the dangers of withdrawing before conditions are right. The plan will accelerate troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan in Trump’s final days in office, despite arguments from senior military officials in favor of a slower, more methodical pullout to preserve hard-fought gains. Miller, who refused to take questions from reporters after reading a prepared statement before TV cameras at the Pentagon, said the U.S. will reduce troop levels in Afghanistan from more than 4,500 to 2,500, and in Iraq from about 3,000 to 2,500.” Here’s what both sides are saying about troop withdrawal:
On the Right: In an opinion piece for Fox News, James Carafano says: “The troop reductions do not reflect a dramatic shift in Trump administration policy. They don’t suggest America is abandoning allies in either place. They are definitely not the culmination of an administration effort to drift into isolationism. What they do represent is the progression of a logical and persistent effort to prudently employ and right-size American forces around the world to protect America’s global interests and global responsibilities.” Carafano argues, “President Trump has never shown any lack of resolve to lean forward and protect America and its allies against any aggressor. He went all in to destroy the Caliphate. He had the guts to go after Iran’s global architect of terrorism, Qasam Soleimani, after two previous presidents didn’t. He issued the strongest statement of support for our allies’ territorial rights and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. He has done more to support Taiwan in the face of Beijing’s belligerence than any president in recent memory. And he stood strong with India in its border dispute with China.” Carafano says, “The reality is that President Trump has tried hard to both protect American interests and be a peacemaker. Many hate his rhetoric and his diplomatic style, but his leadership and statecraft have delivered real advances. Those cannot be easily dismissed.” Carafano says, “the U.S. can’t run away from problems. On the other hand, the answer to every problem isn’t just more troops on the ground. Credit to Trump for working to find the responsible middle ground.” Citing commentary from John Glaser, the Cato Institute’s director of foreign policy studies and Cato Senior Fellow John Mueller Scott Shackford of Reason says: “… while the current, troubled peace agreement in Afghanistan is not ideal, Afghanistan’s problems can’t be solved by U.S. occupation and the only true solution is for the United States to leave entirely.”
On the Left: The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board titles their take: “Trump’s pullout from Afghanistan is rushed and self-serving.” They say: “We oppose a sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan, but not because we believe U.S. forces should remain perpetually in that country. We welcomed the Trump administration’s willingness to negotiate with the Taliban. In February, those talks produced a tentative agreement linking withdrawal of remaining U.S. forces to a commitment by the Taliban to prevent Al Qaeda, Islamic State and other militant groups from using Afghan territory to launch attacks on the United States. However, further negotiations, including those between the Taliban and the Afghan government, have been halting and not very productive. Trump’s drawdown would deprive the U.S. and the Afghan government of leverage in those talks. A rushed troop cut also could leave U.S. bases in Afghanistan vulnerable to being overrun.” Fred Kaplan of Salon agrees, saying: “This Is Not How to End the War in Afghanistan.” Kaplan writes: “It is not clear what President-elect Joe Biden wants to do in Afghanistan now, [but] with so little time left in his term, Trump should let Biden and his team decide whether a high-profile pullout from Afghanistan is the best way to serve U.S. interests. Then again, serving U.S. interests has never been what Trump’s presidency is about.” Of note, is Kevin Drum’s opinion for Mother Jones titled, “Three Cheers for Leaving Afghanistan, No Matter Who Does It.” Simply put there are left-leaning voices who do support Trump’s decision. Drum writes: “I have never believed that there was any end to the war in Afghanistan except one: the Taliban wins. Given that reality, we might as well get out sooner rather than later and simply accept the loss. Regardless of his reasons, that’s what Trump is putting into motion. I’m all in favor of it.”
Flag This: The polling data is mixed on how Americans feel about the war in Afghanistan. It’s also slightly dated. In October of last year, the Brookings Institute and University of Maryland conducted a “nationally representative” poll to determine what the public thinks about “the state of America’s longest war.” According to the results, “Among Democrats, 38% favored maintaining current troop levels in Afghanistan, compared with 34% of Republicans. Twenty-three percent of Republicans and 21% of Democrats favored decreasing troop levels.” Brookings adds that “a plurality of [the American public] favored maintaining current troop levels (34%). Regardless of the wisdom of the initial intervention, a plurality of respondents (44%) also felt that the United States has an obligation toward the Afghan government and segments of Afghan society affected by the war.” With that said, an April 2020 poll from a conservative activist group, Concerned Veterans for America, which has close ties to the conservative Koch network and the Trump administration, said that “nearly three-quarters of veterans surveyed and almost 70 percent of troops’ family members support a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.” In summary, as evidenced above the general consensus is that it’s time to leave. The question of “how” is where there is disagreement.