What's behind Trump's decision to withdraw troops abroad

KQED Radio
| KQED Radio


Announced yesterday that it will continue to withdraw U. S troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving 2500 and each nation by January. 15th. Moved through bipartisan rebukes from lawmakers and some top military commanders who say the troop reduction is premature and could further destabilize Afghanistan. In particular. The announcement comes as President Trump continues to install loyalists at the Pentagon and a week after he fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Going to talk about what's behind the with the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan and other foreign and military policy decisions that the Trump Administration is making in this lame duck period. And joining us is Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. His most recent book is The world. A brief introduction and welcome back to form Richard House. Good to have you Always good to be with you, Michael. And let's begin by talking about this pull back, and I should mention we're not only talking about Afghanistan and Iraq. We're also talking about Somalia. But this is being done at a time January 15th, which is just days before five days before The Biden administration will presumably be moving in now in limbo. And what does that mean in terms of national security that there's no transition yet? Well, there's no upside the fact that there's no transition Can only hurt whoever. Whenever Joe Biden does take over and let's just say January 20th, he's going to inherit an extraordinarily difficult in box. And the more time he and his team have to prepare for it, The better the country will be, so there's nothing to be gained by delaying the transition. The array of international challenges is Is extraordinary. In terms of what you began the show with you set it up exactly right. This is being determined not by local conditions unless by local you mean the trump White House. This is a political calendar rather than on the ground conditions in Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere else. It's inappropriate. I would argue to do this during any transition. Again. What's what's driving this? I believe it's always dangerous toe project with my I believe it's Mr Trump's desire to make good. On certain promises he made. It's consistent with his world view, which tends to be relatively unilateralists, an isolationist, but it will not be good either for the situation in any of these countries or for America's long term efforts, among other things, against terrorism or for our reputation for reliability. Well, let's talk about some of those concerns because they are profound, and they're certainly deep in so many ways, And we should mention perhaps the fact that the president had promised to get troops up. My Christmas is just cutting them in half. But the last time there was a major pullout from Iraq, it led to the rise of the Islamic state there and in Syria, and there's great concern and understandably so about well the Taliban taking over as they did in 1996, possibly in Afghanistan, or for that matter, Afghanistan being a sanctuary for terrorism, not only because of Al Qaeda but because of Isis and, well, the Taliban itself. Look, all those concerns are warranted. I wish I could argue differently, but I can't. What's particularly ironic in Iraq is not only is this You know, we have some history to go by, as you suggest that weakens the ability to fight terrorism. What the administration is concerned about Iranian influence. This seems to me a page the way for increased Iranian influence in Iraq, so even by their own lights. This makes this makes no sense and Afghanistan is really bad. You know. They signed an agreement in February with the Taliban, They bypassed the government. Which in and of itself was bad. It's not a peace agreement that would claims to be. It really is an American withdrawal agreement. The Taliban did not have to give up their arms to not have to agree to. Ah, Ceasefire and they made rhetorical pledges about their relationship with terrorists. But you can't take any of those toe to the bank. Ah, this is really after all we've done in Afghanistan, including the stakes were, you know, I'm prepared to argue that the United States overreach there and trying to remake aspects of the country. But this is this is the opposite mistake. This is under reaching and I hate for that, but that the idea come that down the road, some future administration BIA, Joe Biden's or someone after him. They have to contemplate doing things in places like Iraq or Somalia or Afghanistan simply because the Trump Administration race to the exits and we should mention since you brought up Somalia that the timing on this is really terrible, because There's actually a parliamentary elections that you're coming up soon in about a month, and there's a concern that counterterrorism there of Shabaab led counterterrorism could He stalled working against you, Bob, but this was why getting back to Afghanistan from over. This is why Marcus for the secretary defense was fired. He was concerned about the effects of a rapid pullout on the troops and the remaining What That would mean in terms of our alliance is, but also there's ongoing peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government that are pretty crucial here, too. Are there There's negotiations going on. I'm skeptical about them. But even if you were a believer in these negotiations Can't think of a worse way to negotiate then to unilaterally make these kinds of reductions. I mean, Mr Trump is renowned for quote unquote. The art of the deal. Well, you'll get a deal here, but you won't get a deal That's worth the paper. It's written on. It won't last the Taliban will have no incentive. T meet its commitments and at this risk the moralizing and undermining the government. What we ought to be doing overtime is potentially reducing our presence. We ought to do it in a coordinated, coordinated way with the government with our NATO allies were also there on the ground. There ought to be done in conjunction with significant long term commitments of military aid, economic support intelligence sport. Essentially, it ought to be coordinated and it ought to be carried out on Lee in a context. In which stability and our interest could be protected. This is a textbook case of how not to go about it. And I'm struck also Richard by the fact that there have been attacks despite this agreement that was signed in February, this diplomatic agreement. On personnel. The coalition personnel even though it was signed, and there have also been let's go to Iraq for a moment rockets fired into the Green Zone in Baghdad near the US Embassy shortly after that withdrawal was announced, so A lot of this is pretty ominous in many ways, and certainly ought to be a great concern. I want also, look at this with you for a moment. From the political standpoint, you have a lot of President Trump's fellow Republicans who were balking at this, including Mitch McConnell. That to me is the only bright side of this. Is that it shows that there is a degree of bipartisan support for first serious foreign policy, which includes, Ah continued American presence in the world, one dimension of which is his military. So the fact that these Republicans on the hill are willing to stand up to President Trump, at least in this domain is welcome and also bodes well for the Biden foreign policy for the Biden administration. I'm not naive. I know how difficult it will be in many areas to forge a common policy path but a matters towards China on matters towards Russia on some aspects of American deployments abroad. This suggests to me that the Biden administration and are even if the Republicans keep the Senate after the Georgia votes. Suggests to me that at least in some areas, bipartisanship in foreign policy is is a real possibility nicely

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