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Progressives Denounce Democratic Senators for Trying to Keep Trump on a 'Permanent War Footing' in Korea

After the president revealed he wants to eventually bring home troops stationed in South Korea, Democrats introduced a bill that aims to prevent him from doing so

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.)

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is co-sponsoring an amendment to block the president's ability to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea. (Photo: USDA/Flickr)

"Why, exactly, do we need a bill to ensure we have troops in South Korea at all times, even as the two Koreas seem closer to reconciliation than ever before?"

That's the question progressives are posing in response to legislation from Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) that aims to scale back President Donald Trump's ability to withdraw American troops from the Korean Peninsula. 

"This is just the most recent example of a cognitive dissonance which has allowed Democrats to acknowledge that Trump is a threat to the fabric of democracy while making sure he stays on a permanent war footing," Paul Blest argued in a Splinter piece that calls for an anti-war political party.

"There's another way besides soulless neoconservatism, liberal 'pragmatism' that permits doing just a little imperialism, or just being a clueless dipshit who stumbles ass-backwards into something resembling diplomacy."
—Paul Blest, Splinter

"There's another way besides soulless neoconservatism, liberal 'pragmatism' that permits doing just a little imperialism, or just being a clueless dipshit who stumbles ass-backwards into something resembling diplomacy," he wrote.

Pointing to Rep. Barbara Lee's (D-Calif.) response to Trump's meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier this week, Blest concluded, "we could sure use more Democrats like her."

The Democratic senators' proposed amendment to the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—which would prevent Trump from taking action "unless the U.S. Secretary of Defense certifies it is in our national security interest and would not significantly undermine the security of our allies in the region"—comes after Trump said, following the summit in Singapore, he ultimately wants to draw down troops in the region.

It is not the only pending provision to prevent the president from reducing troops in the region, but it goes the furthest. Any measure that passes the House or Senate will have to survive the conference committee that resolves any differences between the two chambers' bills. Murphy and Duckworth, a combat veteran, introduced their amendment on Wednesday, citing the president's remarks after the summit in Singapore and concerns that Trump may use U.S. troops as "bargaining chips" in ongoing diplomatic talks about North Korea denuclearization.

While Trump had told Voice of America following the summit that the some 30,000 troops currently stationed in South Korea "are going to stay," and he and Kim "didn't even discuss that," he later said at a press conference that he hopes to eventually draw down the U.S. military presence in the region.

"At some point, I have to be honest, and I used to say this during my campaign...I want to get our soldiers out," he told reporters. "I'd like to be able to bring them back home, but that's not part of the equation right now. At some point I hope it will be."

It was at the same news conference that Trump revealed, "We will be stopping the war games"—an announcement that was cautiously but enthusiastically welcomed by anti-war advocates.

"We've allowed partisan politics to get in the way. Democrats don't want to give a bone to Trump because it might impact the midterm elections. That's just killing me."
—Christine Ahn, anti-war activist

As Beatrice Finn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, put it, "I'm not a fan of Trump but let's not promote the idea that stopping to practice mass murdering millions of civilians with weapons of mass destruction is weak and bad."

So far, though, most Democrats in Congress aren't willing to treat Trump's potential withdrawal of troops as a positive step toward peace.

Christine Ahn, a South Korea-born, Hawaii-based anti-war activist, shared with In These Times her frustrations about "knee-jerk reaction from liberals and left" after visiting congressional offices this week to advocate for changes to U.S. policy on the Korean Peninsula.

"People said, 'How could we support engagement and diplomacy—this amounts to approving Donald Trump,'" Ahn explained. "Isn't that reason enough to support the peace process? We've allowed partisan politics to get in the way. Democrats don't want to give a bone to Trump because it might impact the midterm elections. That's just killing me."

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