President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden both say they want to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan. But their tactics vary, and the results of the November 3 election would have long-term consequences not just for U.S. troops but for the broader region.
During the election campaign four years ago, Trump promised to bring all troops home from the “endless war,” which sometimes aroused the concerns of military commanders, defense leaders and even Republican lawmakers concerned about suddenly abandoning partners on the ground. In recent months, he has only increased the pressure, worked hard to fulfill this promise, and repatriated the troops before Election Day.
More widely, the “America First” slogan of Trump has inspired war-weary voters and frustrated with the billions of dollars spending on national defence at the expense of domestic needs. But it has also alienated long-standing European partners whose armies have fought alongside the United States, undermining the reputation of America as a reliable ally.
Biden was more resolute in restoring U.S. relations with allies and NATO, and his attitude toward these wars is more measured. He says troops must be withdrawn responsibly and a residual force presence in Afghanistan will be required to ensure that terrorist groups can’t recover and threaten America again. However, this method has angered progressives and others who believe that the United States is spending too much time, money, and blood on the battlefield far from home.
Trump recently told a White House reporter: “We are getting out of the endless wars.” He said that “top people in the Pentagon” may not like him because “they are unwilling to do anything but war so that all of those wonderful companies that make bombs and made the airplanes and keeps everything else happy.”
He continued: “Let our soldiers go home. Some people don’t like to go home. Some people like to keep spending money.”
Former Vice President Biden does not sound so absolute in terms of withdrawal. In response to a candidate questionnaire from the Center for Foreign Relations, he said that some troops may stay in Afghanistan and concentrate on counterterrorism missions.
“The Americans deserve to be tired of our longest war; so am I. But we must end the war in a responsible way, ensuring that we both guard against threats to our homeland and do not have to look back,” he said.
Both sides are talking about withdrawal, but everyone has tried to some extent and failed.
Trump came to power to condemn the wars and announce that he would send home all the troops. When he took over, his predecessor, President Barack Obama, had for some time reduced the number of forces in Afghanistan to about 8,400. But within a year that number climbed to approximately 15,000, as Trump approved requests from commanders for additional troops to reverse losses in training Afghan forces, combat an increasingly dangerous Islamic State group and placed enough pressure on the Taliban to bring it to the peace table.
Biden was part of the failed efforts of the Obama administration to negotiate an agreement with Iraq’s leaders in 2011. As a result, the United States withdrew all American troops from Iraq. The withdrawal is short-lived. Only three years later, IS militants took over a large area of Iraq, and the United States once again sent troops to Iraq and neighboring Syria to defeat IS.
Focusing on the election, Trump has accelerated the pace of bringing the army home. Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East, said recently that by November, the number of troops in Afghanistan may fall to 4,500, and the number in Iraq may fall from 5,000 to 3,000.
John Glaser, director of foreign policy at the Cato Institute, is skeptical of both candidates. He said that if Biden is elected, he will withdraw troops under pressure, but he will be attracted to restore the situation to normal. “This means that the Allies are there and re-expressed our commitment to NATO.”
Glasser said he believes Trump really wants to withdraw, but he is driven by his election self-interest. “He wants to go out, but he doesn’t know what to do so in a way that he won’t run like a tail.”
He added that if Trump is re-elected, “I am a little worried that he will lose a little bit of election motivation. Frankly speaking, if there is no vote against, I don’t know what he will do. Considering his belligerent attitude on any particular issue, he may fall into another conflict.”
However, Mackenzie and other military leaders have always insisted that field conditions and enemy activities must determine the level of troops. They suggested that the United States must keep its troops in the area to ensure that the enemy will not regain its foothold.
Michele Flournoy, the former top leader of the Pentagon, is often warned of being a potential secretary of defense in the Biden administration. He warned that any “precipitous” withdrawal from Afghanistan could endanger peace. In her speech at the Aspen Security Forum, she said that although the United States does not want to be in Afghanistan forever, it should retain a counter-terrorism force until the peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government is consolidated.
Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican of the House Armed Services Committee, said Trump will provide more funds for the military and Democrats may try to cut the defense budget. But he also responded to the fear of troop withdrawal, reflecting that the Taliban continued to launch attacks and IS’s stubborn insurgency was about to take place, the committee was even more reluctant to abandon Afghanistan.
“Everyone wants to be able to bring troops home from Afghanistan and elsewhere. I think the difference is mainly whether you only do this when certain conditions are met, or if you back down anyway and want the best results,” Thornberry Say. “What I really think of is the way President Obama exits Iraq. … We flinched and said “Good luck.” “Obviously, things are not going well.”
Obama’s decision, however, to withdraw from Iraq was less a U.S. decision than an Iraqi one. The U.S. presence in Iraq was based on a Status of Forces agreement signed by then-President George Bush in 2008 which ended in 2011; the Iraqi government declined to renew the agreement and thus the U.S. forces departed as scheduled.
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Prepared by:Vivian Lee