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Expect U.S. election to have consequences for troops overseas

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By LOLITA C. BALDOR
FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2019 file photo, President Donald Trump, center, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, behind him at right, addresses members of the military during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. During his election campaign four years ago, Trump vowed to bring all troops home from “endless wars." In recent months he's only increased the pressure, working to fulfill his campaign promise and get forces home before Election Day. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden both say they want to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan. But their approaches differ, and the outcome of the Nov. 3 election will have long-term consequences not only for U.S. troops, but for the wider region.

During his election campaign four years ago, Trump pledged to bring all troops home from “endless wars," at times triggering pushback from military commanders, defense leaders and even Republican lawmakers worried about abruptly abandoning partners on the ground. In recent months he has only increased the pressure, working to fulfill that promise and get forces home before Election Day.

More broadly, Trump's 'America First' mantra has buoyed voters weary of war and frustrated with the billions of dollars spent on national defense at the expense of domestic needs. But it has also alienated longtime European partners whose forces have fought alongside the United States, and has bruised America's reputation as a loyal ally.

Biden has been more adamant about restoring U.S. relations with allies and NATO, and his stance on these wars is more measured. He says troops must be withdrawn responsibly and that a residual force presence will be needed in Afghanistan to ensure terrorist groups can't rebuild and attack America again. That approach, however, angers progressives and others who believe the U.S. has spent too much time, money and blood on battlefields far from home.

“We’re getting out of the endless wars,” Trump told White House reporters recently. He said the “top people in the Pentagon” probably don’t love him because “they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”

He continued: "Let’s bring our soldiers back home. Some people don’t like to come home. Some people like to continue to spend money.”

Biden, the former vice president, has sounded less absolute about troop withdrawal. In response to a candidate questionnaire from the Center for Foreign Relations, he said some troops could stay in Afghanistan to focus on the counterterrorism mission.

“Americans are rightly weary of our longest war; I am, too. But we must end the war responsibly, in a manner that ensures we both guard against threats to our homeland and never have to go back,” he said.

While both talk about troops withdrawals, each has, in some ways, tried and failed.

Trump came into office condemning the wars and declaring he would bring all troops home. When he took over, the number of forces in Afghanistan had been capped at about 8,400 for some time by his predecessor, President Barack Obama. But within a year that total climbed to about 15,000, as Trump approved commanders’ requests for additional troops to reverse setbacks in the training of Afghan forces, fight an increasingly dangerous Islamic State group and put enough pressure on the Taliban to force it to the peace table.

Biden was part of the Obama administration’s failed effort to negotiate an agreement with Iraqi leaders in 2011, and as a result the U.S. pulled all American forces out of that country. That withdrawal was short-lived. Just three years later, as IS militants took over large swaths of Iraq, the U.S. again deployed troops into Iraq and neighboring Syria to defeat IS.

With an eye toward the election, Trump has accelerated his push to bring troops home. Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. military commander for the Middle East, said in recent days that by November, the number of troops in Afghanistan could drop to 4,500, and the number in Iraq could dip from about 5,000 to 3,000.

John Glaser, foreign policy director at the Cato Institute, is skeptical of both candidates. He said Biden, if elected, will struggle with pressure to pull troops out, but will be drawn to getting things back to normal, “which means being there for allies, reupping our commitment to NATO.”

Glaser said he believes Trump really wants to pull troops out, but is driven by his electoral self-interest. “He wants to get out but he doesn’t know how to do so in a way that doesn’t feel like tucking tail and running.”

He added that if Trump is reelected, “I'm a little nervous that he will lose a little electoral incentive. If there aren't votes to be against I frankly don't know what he will do. He could slip into another conflict, given his belligerence on any given issue.”

McKenzie and other military leaders, however, have consistently argued that conditions on the ground and the activities of the enemy must dictate troop levels. They suggest that the U.S. must keep troops in the region to ensure enemies don’t regain a foothold.

Michele Flournoy, a former top Pentagon leader who is often mentioned as a potential defense chief in a Biden administration, warned against any “precipitous” withdrawal from Afghanistan that could jeopardize peace. In remarks to the Aspen Security forum, she said that while the U.S. doesn't want to be in Afghanistan forever, a counterterrorism force should remain until a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government is solidified.

Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Trump will provide more money for the military while the Democrats probably will try to cut the defense budget. But he also echoed troop withdrawal concerns, reflecting a broader reluctance on the committee to abandon Afghanistan while the Taliban continue to launch attacks and a stubborn IS insurgency threatens to take hold.

“Everybody wants to be able to bring troops home from Afghanistan and elsewhere. I think the differences are largely about whether you only do it when certain conditions are met or whether you withdraw anyway and hope for the best,” said Thornberry. “Really what I’m thinking of is the way President Obama withdrew from Iraq. ... We withdrew and kind of said ‘Good luck.’ Obviously, things did not go so well.”

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.


13 Comments
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there he is again in his Jesus Christ Pose.

The options are explicitly clear: return home or more wasteful deployments to fill the pocketbook of an ill mannered fascist who has zero concern for our military, calls them 'suckers' and 'losers'?

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When I was a child every other news story was about Moscow, Soviet Union, and now in Japan every other story in about Washington DC or USA. Sick of international Politics ran by Moscow or Washington. Anything else in the news other than usa?

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US is a war machine with a trillion dollar defense budget. More wars needed, too many people still who have not experienced freedom, democracy and McDonalds.

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US is a war machine with a trillion dollar defense budget. More wars needed, too many people still who have not experienced freedom, democracy and McDonalds.

The US learned a hard lesson on 7 December 1941. The US doesn't want to be surprised like that ever again. Where in the 1930s the US didn't take the threats from Japan and Germany seriously, the US now isn't going to let another power gain an upper hand like that. Nations have to know that any such attack will draw a terrible reprisal. Americas friends do not have to worry about that, only her enemies. Nothing in that to apologize for either.

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"The US learned a hard lesson on 7 December 1941. The US doesn't want to be surprised like that ever again. Where in the 1930s the US didn't take the threats from Japan and Germany seriously, the US now isn't going to let another power gain an upper hand like that. Nations have to know that any such attack will draw a terrible reprisal. Americas friends do not have to worry about that, only her enemies. Nothing in that to apologize for either."

IKR. Nothing to apologize for spreading freedom and democracy around the world. Plenty to apologize for inflicting McDonalds upon the world though.

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@Desert Tortoise

"The US learned a hard lesson on 7 December 1941. The US doesn't want to be surprised like that ever again."

With all due respect, Mr. Tortoise, it is always good, when discussing history and particularly the fantasy a.k.a. 'U.S. History', that one has actually studied a bit of it. Regarding the "surprise" part of your thought, I can refer you simply to the USS Lewis, a destroyer patrolling the mouth of Pearl Harbor (international waters), at 0530 on 07Dec1941, spotted and identified a Japanese miniature submarine (max range ~200 miles, ~320km), fired upon it, and sank it. 0530. 07Dec1941. The base was on "HIGH ALERT". No alarm was ever sounded. The base commander who was later charged with failure was NEVER informed of the start of the war by the U.S. (first 'shot') before the 'retaliatory' attack by Japan at 0745, 07Dec1941. There are many more such problems with the "surprise" story. Some would say that Roosevelt declared war when he interdicted Japan's vital oil supply in June of 1941 to incite such an attack so that the very reluctant U.S. population could be forced into another war in Europe. I invite you to imagine OUR (U.S.) response to a move like 'oil import interdiction' against us. The thing to remember is that history has details, and when these details are accessed, 'history' looks very different than it looks when told by those who have gained from ... hmmm...massaging it a bit in the telling. The "USS Maine" was our first such surprise invented by T. Roosevelt when AsstSec Navy in 1898. It was tried again with the "Lusitania" in 1915, then Pearl, then "The Gulf of Tonkin", most recent "9/11". If you examine all of these you will see the same highly questionable but 'plausible' stories around them. As a reference, you might begin with "At Dawn We Slept" which details the USS Lewis, and "Victor's Justice" which details a whole lot more. Both of these are highly readable and well referenced and will begin your journey into a past you will barely recognize from what you now think you know. Good luck...

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Trump is the only US President in decades to not start any new wars.

Kudos to him... and let the US stop being the world's policeman.

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The picture is very odd, there are no signs of duress

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There are many more such problems with the "surprise" story. 

You confuse complacency and misreading Japanese intentions with conspiracy. I know a great deal about the US Navy in WWII. Sort of a life long passion. It is who I serve btw. The US leadership in the early 1940s, both political and military, honestly thought the Japanese would never dare attacking the US directly knowing how it would enrage the US. What the US expected was sabotage by Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants living in the US. That is why all the aircraft on Hawaii were parked closely together out in the open where the guards could see them and see anyone trying to come across the flight line to do something. If the US was worried about an air attack they would have parked the airplanes individually in earthen revetments spaced apart so if one was hit the explosion would not take out any others. Revetments work great for protection from air attack but with each aircraft surrounded on three sides by high earth mounds and spread out at a distance from each other it is much harder and requires a lot more people to protect them from sabotage. That fear of sabotage is also why all the Japanese Americans and many Japanese living in Peru were interned during WWII. We know better now but forget todays thinking. We learned an ugly lesson from what we did but you have to put yourself in a 1941 mindset to understand why the US did and didn't do some things before Japan attacked, and afterwards.

Likewise the US Navy believed Pearl Harbor was too shallow to use aerial torpedos. US torpedos would hit the bottom of such a shallow body of water after release from the airplane so the US Navy didn't put up torpedo nets and didn't give a thought to the possibility of an aerial torpedo attack in Pearl Harbor. To the US Navy it wasn't possible. The Japanese understood this and did a great deal of work to modify their aerial torpedoes so they didn't dive too deep after the airplane released them. That was a major surprise the US Navy never expected. In fact the performance of the Long Lance was one of the ugly surprises the Japanese gave the US Navy early in the war. The warhead turned out to be much bigger than the US thought, making many of their torpedo protection schemes in some ship classes inadequate. They were also faster and longer running than any other torpedo at the time. Meanwhile US torpedoes routinely failed to detonate after hitting their targets due to a poorly designed fuse and BUORD leadership stubbornly refused to acknowledge there was a problem, blaming submarine commanders for their failures. Eventually the fuse was changed and US subs became a deadly menace. More mistakes on the US side, a radar unit on high ground in Oahu detected the incoming Japanese raid but thought it was a squadron of US Army B-17 bombers due to arrive that same morning from the West Coast. Radar was very new and didn't have IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) equipment back then so the operators had no way to know the blip they saw was a Japanese raid and not the expected Army bombers. Thinking they were friendlies the radar crew went to breakfast.

The US expected any Japanese attack to occur in the Philippines or Wake Island, which is why the US was reinforcing them in late 1941. In fact two carriers, Hornet and Enterprise, returned to Pearl Harbor on the evening of December 7th after transporting USMC fighter aircraft to Wake Island (the Japanese would later invade Wake Island and imprison the Marines under awful conditions). The fact is the US Navy, which tracked the movements of Japan's aircraft carriers to the extent they could with the technology of the day had lost contact with them in early November. The Japanese had been careful to mask their movements, observed the strictest radio silence at sea, used person to person communications at home to prevent any leaks and successfully evaded detection. Their carrier force was assembled in a bay the US didn't keep surveillance on and was able to leave undetected. Even with two aircraft carriers at sea during the attack the US Navy didn't know where the Japanese were to mount any kind of counter attack. They were expecting any Japanese raid to be in the Philippines and weren't looking for their carriers off Oahu. This nonsense about the US setting up the attack is a fiction for bored people who are too intellectually lazy for the truth. The truth in this case is a lot of what we realize today to be bad decisions and complacency gave the Japanese an opportunity and they fully exploited it. Those poor decisions cost the US an awful lot of lives. Now the US military is determined to never again repeat those mistakes. I cannot support that enough.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

OPINION pieces are only meant to push a narrative, they don't have all the facts.

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The Kurds were our allies for decades, and Trump stabbed them in the back.

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The Kurds were our allies for decades, and Trump stabbed them in the back.

Roger that! It was shameful and unforgivable, something the US will probably never live down.

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1glennSep. 17  05:12 pm JST

The Kurds were our allies for decades, and Trump stabbed them in the back.

Trump is unreliable, undependable, undiplomatic and disgraceful. Everything he does just fuels the fires and the ire of the fanatical zealots in the Middle East.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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