Trump's Campaign Talk of Troop Withdrawals Does Not Match Military Reality

President Donald Trump takes his face mask off his first public appearance after being admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 at a rally at the White House in Washington, Oct. 10, 2020.

(New York Times / Doug Mills)

As President Donald Trump said on Twitter last week that he was expected to be home for Christmas to all US troops in Afghanistan, he echoed a target for years, and would certainly hoped that people would offer him more respect for his tweets than for its performance when it comes to stopping military deployments.

Trump has long promised to abandon Afghanistan and to conclude, in more general terms, what he calls the "endless battles" of the United States across the Middle East, by reviving a key subject of his 2016 campaign that some evidence indicates might have been critical in his victory.

But Trump did not welcome the last American soldier anywhere with about three months left in his first term.

Though he has brought thousands of soldiers out of Afghanistan, Iraq , and Syria, there are thousands of more at risk — a source of obvious desperation for a president to convince citizens of unmistakable, unparalleled results.

And, though his defenders say he merits praise to prevent more significant U.S. interventions which have rendered him the first president in the decades, in reaction to increasing strains with Iran, which research warns that he could spread into a hot battle, Trump has sent thousands of additional soldiers to the Persian Gulf.

In areas such as Qatar and Bahrain, he has also done nothing to scale up big US military bases.

"Tens of thousands of soldiers have been mobilized throughout the Middle East to assist continuing operations in and outside the area," said Dana Stroul, fellow at the Institute for Near East Policy in Washington.

"Even the US military involvement in Saudi Arabia was increased by the president.

Over his time, neither of these powers were removed.

His rhetoric doesn't coincide with today's reality in the Middle East.

Yet, even the belief that it would push more Americans away from the dangerous route abroad would aid his prospects of reelection on the platform of "America First.'

At any step, from his protests to the Republican Convention in August to his Twitter account he and his surrogates have echoed the message.

"I 'm getting the Afghan troops back.

I'm moving back from Iraq with our soldiers.

We are nearly out of any location, "he said during a September town hall event televised by ABC News.

More than a week later, at the campaign rally, the President promised "to stop America in countries you have never even heard of from such endless, ridiculous, stupid foreign wars."

He took up this subject in a tweet hour before returning to the White House last week from Walter Reed NMC.


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Trump wrote that his coronavirus diagnosis was obsessed by the world.

In Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, Trump currently leads more than 10,000 ground forces, just marginally behind his legacy from the Obama administration at the top.

According to the Pentagon survey, the amount of deployments ordered by Trump rose as much as 26,000 by the end of 2017 until it slowly dropped in recent months.

Following President Barack Obama leaving just under 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, Trump ordered the country another 3,000 in 2017 before starting a downturn that today amounted to some 4,500.

In Syria, too, it has raised troops from some 500 under Obama to almost 2500 until it dropped down to the current number of 750, where US powers have fought the Islamic State Group.

In Iraq, the number of troops remained nearly unchanged from the end of Obama's period to nearly 3,000 in the Pentagon last month.

According to an academic study from June 2017 which found that in the 2016 election "a meaningful relationship between the rates of the communities' military sacrifice and their support for Trump was a powerful message denouncing and vowing to end foreign interventions four years ago.

The authors of the study, Douglas Kriner, of Cornell University, and Francis Shen, of the University of Minnesota Law School, have concluded that if Trump's Three States – Pennsylvania, Michigan , and Wisconsin – "were even moderately low, all three could have turned blue and sent Hillary Clinton to the White House."

However, a less useful foil former vice-president Joe Biden is like a Clinton one.

While Biden also supported the Iraq War, the conflict is not as closely related as Clinton.

He himself was critical of subsequent international involvement, protesting against a rise in troops within the Obama administration in Afghanistan in 2009 and resistance to U.S. interference in Libya in 2011.

Biden concentrates on restoring the USA from inside on his campaign web site, by way of initiatives like school reform, more humane immigration policies and preservation of voting rights.

Biden also promises to finish 'the end of the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East that cost us untold blood and treasure,' and to 'bring the great majority of our troops home out of Afghanistan and concentrate our mission in the narrowest possible direction on Al Qaeda and ISIS.'

Trump perhaps tried a more clearer comparison with his adversary last week, with an evening tweet speeding up his US departure timetable by astonishing senior military and civic leaders.

"By Christmas we can have the tiny rest of our Valiant men and women fighting in Afghanistan!

"The Taliban who pledged America to a complete withdrawal by next May were evidently undercut by Trump on Wednesday, but only if the Afghan insurgency party satisfied essential criteria."

The tweet also came just a few hours after Trump's National Security Adviser, Robert O'Brien, told the audience that by the start of next year the United States will cut its forces to 2500.

There was no official comment from the White House, but in the background, a top administration official said that Trump had made a clear statement, and the government was compelled to do what the commander would like.

But high-level military officials say they have not received formal orders to cut US forces to 4,500 by the end of November in Afghanistan.

Philip Gordon, who was the Obama administration's coordinator for the Middle East , North Africa and Persian Gulf region, pointed out tweet evidence of Trump's military management behind political impulses rather than strategic thinking.

"You can't give him credit to handle the drawdown successfully.

It was messy, incoherent and utterly random, "said Gordon.

He recalled that the Pentagon 's plan to strive to find solutions to contain a few hundred soldiers intended to counter Russian and Iranian influence repeatedly sought the removal of the modest contingent of U.S. forces from Syria, although Trump boasts that the troop are now present to "purchase the oil."

After seven members of the U.S. service were wounded when a Russian rammed their blind vehicle in August, the Pentagon sent 100 more troops into the region, raising the number of US 750 troops there.

King voiced dissatisfaction at Trump's inability to move all the U.S. forces from battle areas forward.

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

A re-elected Trump might have to apply military action to prevent an Iranian bomb.

"And the culmination of the 'forever fights' will be that," said Gordon.

Originally in The New York Times this article was written.

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