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Anti-war left hesitantly celebrates Trump’s troop pullout

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Some dovish Democratic lawmakers are torn over President Donald Trump’s abrupt decisions this week to withdraw US troops from Syria — where they were sent without congressional approval — and halve the American military presence in Afghanistan, where the US has been at war for over 17 years.

Progressive Democrats in the House and Senate expressed nuanced opinions on Trump’s unexpected unilateral move, voicing outrage over Congress’ failure to hold the White House accountable in matters of war and foreign intervention, and reasserting their belief that the US shouldn’t be engaged in “forever wars,” while also expressing concern over Trump’s failure to address humanitarian or diplomatic crises.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who has pushed progressives to assert a more coherent foreign policy strategy, argued that Congress has long abdicated its responsibility to approve military action, which is often covertly ordered by the executive branch, and that Democrats shouldn’t defend the illegal US military presence in Syria. But Murphy opposed the way in which Trump is rolling out the foreign policy shift.

“Guess what? Our military strategy in Syria — under Obama and Trump — has never made sense,” Murphy tweeted on Wednesday. “Fighting ISIS makes sense, but our half-hearted intervention in the civil war has never been enough to tip the balance but just enough to give false hope to the rebels that they can win.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat who was the sole member of Congress to vote against authorizing war on Afghanistan in 2001, argued that ending the unauthorized “perpetual war” in the Middle East must be accompanied by a congressionally-approved plan to address humanitarian concerns and a broader diplomatic strategy.

“While I agree we must bring home our troops as soon as possible, there is no plan in place to address the humanitarian disaster in Syria or advance negotiated peace,” Lee wrote on Thursday. “We MUST end these unauthorized wars, but the manner in which we do it matters.”

Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat and co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, praised the president’s move on Wednesday, calling the troop withdrawal “a good first step toward ending our foreign policy of interventionism.” He argued that Democrats should remain firm in their call for a “foreign policy of restraint” and called for the end to US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and the repeal of the 2001 authorization for the use of military force.

“Instead of criticizing withdrawal from the illegal war in Syria, Dems would have more credibility calling for pressure on Erdogan to have a cease fire, collaboration with allies, and a short timeline for removing troops,” Khanna tweeted Friday, referring to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “Critique the tactics, not the strategy of less intervention.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, an Iraq war veteran who has long called for an end to US intervention in Syria, on Friday called the widespread GOP opposition to the troop withdrawals “astonishing” and evidence of “just how attached to war some are.”

Some pundits on the left are also arguing that Trump is making the right decision to reduce US influence in the Middle East, no matter how he settled on or announced the move.

“It is mind boggling that we, as a nation, are unable to appreciate that thousands of Americans will now no longer be in harm’s way, fighting a war that Congress never debated and that much of American public never even knew was happening,” Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, wrote in The Guardian on Friday.

Ignoring the advice of his top advisers and triggering the resignation of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Trump announced he will withdraw all 2,000 US troops from Syrian and bring 7,000 troops home from Afghanistan, shortly after he declared victory over the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. The move drove the president’s secretary of defense, James Mattis, to resign from his position Thursday.

“We have won against ISIS,” Trump said in a video message Wednesday. “We’ve beaten them, and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land. And, now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens as U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions during a meeting with military leaders in the Cabinet Room on October 23, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

A host of top Republicans, the bulk of the foreign policy establishment, and the Democratic Party have all condemned the troop withdrawals and expressed shock and concern over Mattis’ resignation. Murphy called the resignation “a national security crisis,” while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — who very rarely publicly criticizes the president — said he is “distressed” by the news.

“Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday, insisting that “ISIS is not defeated.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called the president’s decision a “grave error,” while Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois told The Washington Post that “history will look at this as one of the stupidest strategic moves.”

Mattis has publicly argued that the US must maintain its presence in Syria in order to suppress a resurgence of ISIS.

“Getting rid of the caliphate doesn’t mean you then blindly say okay, we got rid of it, march out, and then wonder why the caliphate comes back,” Mattis said in September.

US troops are training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and carrying out counterterrorism operations against regional terror groups, like ISIS and Al Qaeda. In September of last year, Trump ordered the deployment of an additional 3,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Ryan Pickrell contributed to this report.

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