Ever since President Donald Trump indicated that he wanted to pull U.S. military forces out of Afghanistan and Syria, a debate over the nature of U.S. foreign policy took shape. A significant number of Americans wish to see an end to the interventionist policies of the past, while others are skeptical about withdrawing from the Middle East.
While Trump’s aversion to being embroiled in foreign conflicts was one of the reasons his supporters voted for him, many people are warning him of the potential ramifications of pulling out of the region. In a recent appearance with Margaret Brennan on CBS News’ Face the Nation, the president outlined his future plans for troops in the Middle East, and it seems that he might want to strike a balance between those who are hesitant about removing soldiers from Afghanistan and those who want to see an end to the war, which has raged for almost 20 years.
Trump Commits to Afghanistan Withdrawal
During his appearance, the president discussed illegal immigration and the government shutdown. But a large portion of the interview was dedicated to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. One concern Brennan pointed out is the risk of allowing ISIS to rebuild its caliphate and use Afghanistan as a platform from which to launch attacks on the United States.
Trump indicated that while ISIS is not eliminated, its operating abilities are greatly diminished. “You’re going to always have pockets of something. What– you’re going to have people, like the one-armed man who blew up a restaurant. You’re going to have pockets. But you’re not going to keep armies there because you have a few people.”
“We can come back very quickly, and I’m not leaving,”…
The president also reminded Brennan that if ISIS manages to make a resurgence, we can still send troops back into the region. Moreover, he will keep troops in Iraq to ensure that the U.S. can respond to any upsurge in terrorist activity. “We can come back very quickly, and I’m not leaving,” he explained. “We have a base in Iraq, and the base is a fantastic edifice.”
Brennan then asked: “Is there a scenario where you would keep troops in Afghanistan? A smaller number?”
Trump answered by explaining that he will keep intelligence operatives in the region to monitor activity among terrorist groups. “And I’ll leave intelligence there. Real intelligence, by the way. I’ll leave intelligence there, and if I see nests forming, I’ll do something about it. But for us to be spending $51 billion, like last year, or if you average the cost it’s — I mean you’re talking about numbers that nobody’s ever heard of before.”
Trump was then asked about Senate Republicans who are not in support of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. They argue that making this move would risk national intelligence. Trump responded:
“We’ve been there for 19 years. I want to fight. I want to win, and we want to bring our great troops back home. I’ve seen the people. I go to Walter Reed Hospital. I see what happens to people. I see with no legs and no arm — arms. And I’ve seen also what happens to them up here because they’re in this situation, and they come back, and they are totally different people — where the wives and the fathers and the mothers say, ‘What has happened to my son? What has happened in some cases to my daughter?’ It’s a terrible thing. We’ve been there close to 19 years. And it’s time.”
Trump Can’t Please Everyone
When President Trump finally pulls the trigger on U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is inevitable that he will receive harsh criticism from both sides. Leaving troops in Iraq that could respond to terrorist activity will not be enough to appease interventionists on the left and the right. But it also may raise consternation among Americans who want to bring all of the troops home.
However, Trump’s decision might be enough for those who wish to see an end to the war in Afghanistan but don’t necessarily believe that the United States needs to remove all of the country’s soldiers. In the end, bringing the troops home was one of Trump’s campaign promises, which means that it is unlikely that he will fail to pull the U.S. out of Afghanistan. What remains to be seen is how this decision will affect him politically.