“There is no… sound reason for the United States to continue sacrificing precious lives and treasure in a conflict not directly connected to our safety or other vital national interests.” So said William Ruger about Afghanistan, our longest war. What makes this statement significant is that President Donald Trump has ordered a drawdown by mid-October of half of the 8,600 troops still in the country. And Ruger was just named U.S. ambassador to Kabul. The selection of Ruger to oversee the U.S. withdrawal came as Gen. Frank McKenzie of Central Command announced plans to cut the U.S. troop presence in Iraq from 5,200 to 3,000 by the end of September.
Is America, at long last, really coming home from the forever wars?
A foreign policy analyst at the libertarian Charles Koch Institute and a Naval officer decorated for his service in Afghanistan, Ruger has long championed a noninterventionist foreign policy. His nomination tends to confirm that, should Trump win a second term, his often-declared goal of extracting America from the forever wars of the Middle East, unachieved in his first term, would become a priority.
Yet, we have been here before, bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, only to send thousands back when our enemies seemed to be gaining the upper hand at the expense of the allies we left behind. Still, this time, Trump’s withdrawals look to be irreversible. And, with the U.S. deal with the Taliban producing peace negotiations between the Kabul government and the Taliban, America seems to be saying to both sides of this endless civil war: The destiny of Afghanistan is yours. The choice of war or peace is up to you. If talks collapse and a fight to the finish ensues, we Americans are not coming back, even to prevent a Taliban victory.
Speaking in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Trump made a remarkable declaration: “We don’t have to be in the Middle East, other than we want to protect Israel. … There was a time we needed desperately oil, we don’t need that anymore.” If Trump means what he says, U.S. forces will be out of Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan early in his second term.
But how to explain the continued presence of tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Diego Garcia?
Another indication of where a Trump second term is pointing is the naming of retired Col. Douglas Macgregor as ambassador to Germany. The winner of a Bronze Star for valor in the 1991 Gulf War, Macgregor speaks German and is steeped in that country’s history. He has been highly visible on cable TV, calling for the transfer to our allies of the primary responsibility for their own defenses, and elevating the security of America’s Southern border to a far higher national imperative. In 2019, Macgregor was quoted:
The only solution is martial law on the border, putting the United States Army in charge of it and closing it off would take about 30, 40,000 troops. We’re talking about the regular army. You need robust rules of engagement. That means that you can shoot people as required if your life is in danger.
That Macgregor’s priorities may be Trump’s also became evident with the president’s announcement this summer of the withdrawal of 12,000 of the 35,000 U.S. troops stationed in Germany. Yet, at the same time, there is seemingly contradictory evidence to the notion that Donald Trump wants our troops home. Currently, some 2,800 U.S., British, and French troops are conducting “Noble Partner” exercises with Georgian troops in that country in the Caucasus bordering Russia.
In Trump’s first term, his commitment to extricate America from the forever wars went unrealized, due in part to the resistance of hawks Trump himself appointed to carry out his foreign policy agenda. Clearly, with the cuts in troops in Germany, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and the appointments of Ruger and Macgregor, Trump has signaled a new resolve to reconfigure U.S. foreign policy in an “America First” direction, if he wins a second term. Will he follow through?
Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has been in an extended argument with itself over America’s role, America’s mission in the world. George H.W. Bush’s New World Order is ancient history, as are the democracy crusades his son George W. Bush was persuaded to launch. But what will Trump’s foreign policy legacy be, should he win?
Joe Biden has signaled where he is headed—straight back to Barack Obama: “First thing I’m going to have to do, and I’m not joking: if elected I’m going to have to get on the phone with the heads of state and say America’s back,” Biden said, saying NATO has been “worried as hell about our failure to confront Russia.”
Trump came to office pledging to establish a new relationship with the Kremlin of President Vladimir Putin. Is that still his goal, or have the Beltway Russophobes prevailed?
above: CJTF American and French soldiers in support of the Battle of Baghuz Fawqani from Iraq [Image by: Philleydelphia / CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons, cropped and resized]