May as well get right to the point—so far as the matter of withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Germany goes, Donald Trump is right. The House Armed Services Committee is wrong—its Democratic members even more so than its Republicans. So there, I’ve said it. Elections tend to make absolutists of us all, maybe none more so than presidential elections, and perhaps none of them more than this one. In the heat of a campaign, siding with the opposition on a controversial question can seem a form of political treason. I expect there’s already people who’ve stopped reading, some possibly even considering this article "objectively fascist," in supporting anything proposed by a man who has been wrong so often and so profoundly. But the question of ending endless war is simply too important a matter for us to turn away from, no matter how unpleasant an ally we might encounter on a particular front.
The immediate matters at hand are Trump’s plans to withdraw the 8,600 American troops remaining in Afghanistan and 9,500 of our 34,500 troops in Germany. The Armed Services Committee has voted to block both moves by amending the National Defense Authorization Act, currently working its way through the legislative process, with requirements that various conditions be met before such withdrawals can occur. And as far as the committee’s members went, these weren’t close questions.
The Afghanistan amendment passed 45-11; committee Democrats voting for it 28-3. The committee adopted the German troop amendment even more emphatically, by a 49-7 vote, with only a single opposing Democrat—Ro Khanna (CA). Even Tulsi Gabbard (HI), fresh off her recent antiwar presidential candidacy, voted for it. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) complained of the "weak deal" the U.S. would be getting if it left now—in the 19th year of this war—circumstances he presumably thinks might improve in a 20th year. Prominent on the Republican side was Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), daughter of former Vice-President Dick Cheney, one of the young century’s great war-lovers.
There is talk that "top U.S. commanders" have persuaded the White House to back off and agree to leave 4,000 troops in Afghanistan past the November election, much as they dissuaded Barack Obama from a complete withdrawal before he left the White House – a move that would, of course, have eliminated the problem from today’s discussion.
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Whichever way that goes, we can take some consolation in there being at least some sign of antiwar impulse in Congress, with a nine-named-sponsor amendment to strike the committee language limiting troop withdrawal when the bill comes before the full House. (Sponsors are Democrats Ilan Omar (MN), Ayanna Pressley (MA), Mark Pocan (WI), Rashida Tlaib (MI), Jim McGovern (MA), Barbara Lee (CA), Pramila Jayapal (WA).) The amendment, which could be voted on next week, also specifies the necessity of congressional approval before entering the next war. However this turns out—and it seems at least a reasonable bet that the troop withdrawal limitation will survive—we should probably be prepared for future awkward situations of this kind over the next few months—particularly if Joe Biden starts talking about foreign policy.
The anti-German troop withdrawal amendment seems likely to draw less attention, and apparently enjoys even broader support, in that Senators have already weighed in. Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) are co-sponsoring a complementary amendment in their house. At first blush, it may seem odd that Congress would be more adamant about maintaining troops in Germany than in Afghanistan, but then troops in Germany have become a part of American life. It is a remarkable enough fact that this presidential election will include voters who have never been alive when we were not at war in Afghanistan. But what’s that compared with the fact that about 93 percent of the current American population has never known a time when American soldiers have not been stationed in Germany?
If anything, that orientation has only reasserted itself over the past decade—and with the same recurrent Russian adversary, now trimmed down in size and ideology. And there American foreign policy remains, frozen in a seventy-five year old world view. Anchored in the memory of the U.S.’s undeniable and crucial role in defeating a aggressor Germany, Washington continues to believe it can and should successfully spread our military around the globe and impose its will around the world—the subsequent experiences of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan notwithstanding.
Anyone entertaining serious hopes for significant reordering of the American economy, of our race relations, of energy production and transportation, eventually realizes that all of this will require a simultaneous demilitarization of both our economy and our role in the world. And there is really not a lot of time to waste on any of these fronts—even if it might require agreeing with Donald Trump on something.