According to the New York Times, Trump is pushing for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq. This has been stirring up a lot of press and an endless parade of experts on foreign policy and former flag officers.
Gen. Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been openly critical of Trump’s withdrawal plan in the past. He so far has survived the president’s purge of top Pentagon staff. He seems to have changed his stance and is supporting the move (Asia Times). Critics say the changes are turning the military into a tool of the National Security Council (CNN). They also say putting men in top who are “yes men” may enable Trump to accelerate withdrawal (Politico).
NATO Chief Gen Jens Stoltenburg, Norway, is warning against a premature pullout as it would leave 12,000 member nation troops in the Middle East without US backing (Politico). He says any withdrawal should be done in a coordinated way. He’s right and abandoning them would make it difficult to coordinate future projections of force with our allies.
Senator Mitch McConnell has been openly critical of a pullout. He says our national interests are at stake (New York Times). Trump has also been wanting to draw down our troop strengths in Germany (Breaking Defense), much to the delight of Putin I’m sure. Ole Vlad would definitely be able to throw his weight around in the Baltic States without the US looking like punks if we have no assets in the region. The way we looked when Russia invaded Odessa and the Crimea . The same could be said of the Middle East.
Of course there’s still everyone’s favorite contractor Eric Prince. While he wasn’t too busy training Chinese troops for Xinjiang Province (The Independent) and spying on teachers, he helped the UAE build a military of mercenaries (TheRealNews). There are private contractors in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan. Prince has requested to take over all military functions in the latter nation (Washington Post). A military force in the region, financed by the UAE that most don’t even know about is great way to avoid bad press.
Where does that leave us? Hard to say. Unless POTUS knows something we don’t know it’s probably not a good idea. If US forces where to get attacked by a state actor it might drag us into a larger conflict which would be bad. Of course if NATO troops get attacked we would be bound by our alliance to get involved.
If we get attacked at a lower troop level some will say it’s inspired by perceived weakness, but is that true? If the US leaves Afghanistan who will the Taliban have to blame for their nation’s problems? It might be by increasing attacks they (or their controllers) hope to get the Americans to stay. This is similar to the strategy of Hamas. They attack Israel every time there is a peace agreement on the table. The reason; if they make peace with Israel they have no reason to exist as an organization. They need Israel as an enemy to remain relevant. They also get aid from outside the nation. Aid they get to pick through before the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip does. They are the bosses on their turf, and the conflict guarantees they will retain their position. It seems if the Taliban wanted the US out, toning down their attacks in hopes of a pullout would be a more sound strategy.
It is possible by making a big show of wanting to pull out Trump may be putting pressure on other NATO members to do the same. If that is the case a real withdrawal wouldn’t actually happen, just another reduction in troops stationed in the region accompanied by rhetoric. A show would also be politically sound if something was going to happen. No one would be able to blame Trump for any ill affects of a continued presence he opposes. We’ve been involved at an abnormally high level in the region since the 9/11 attacks. Stationing troops in foreign nations always comes with risk.
The honest answer is we just don’t know. That’s why picking a president is so important, you have to trust them. Do we trust Trump? As important, do we trust his appointees and advisors? If it’s the correct decision nothing will happen. There will be no yardstick; it’s not a video game that we can restart and try a different decision at this level. No crisis, the world ticking on as normal. signals a success. Everyone will have their opinion about the decision but not many will truly know if it was correct or not.
Having pointed all that out I believe any withdrawal should be coordinated with NATO and under advisement of personnel intimately familiar with the situation. These are admittedly people privy to information we don’t have. We can’t leave our NATO allies out in the cold however. We’ve done enough to damage our relationship with them as it is.
I used to see a man walking the streets, every few steps he would clap his hands together. No one paid much attention to him. He would go about his daily walk while clapping. Once I asked him why he clapped his hands like that. He said, “It keeps the lions away.” I replied there aren’t any lions in these parts. “See, it works.” he said, and walked on down the street, occasionally clapping his hands.