In the aftermath of the firing of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper last week, the elevation of Christopher Miller to the role of acting secretary, and the installation of Douglas Macgregor as senior adviser to the acting Pentagon chief, many analysts in Washington believe President Trump intends to accelerate America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan — and possibly Iraq and Syria — before the end of his term.
While many pundits raise alarm bells over the reported move, others, some of whom have most experience in Afghanistan, rightly hail the potential withdrawal as long overdue.
Marc Polymeropoulos, a retired CIA senior operations officer, told Politico late Wednesday he considered the “precipitous and what appears to be near total withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan” as ”reckless.” Views like those shared by Mr. Polymeropoulos do not stand up to even cursory scrutiny.
At the most fundamental level, it is difficult to consider a withdrawal from Afghanistan — after more than 19 years — “precipitous” in any definition of the word. Since an agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban in February of this year, Mr. Trump has been clear about his intention to withdraw all our troops. Last May, The New York Times reported the Pentagon was drafting plans to have all the troops out by May 2021. Accelerating the plan by four months — again, after almost two decades of far-from-successful war — is hardly “precipitous.”
Moreover, there seems to be much consternation among many of these same experts that Mr. Trump is trying “to impose his will” on the generals in requiring a quicker exit. This argument itself should be a sign of concern. Let us be clear: The U.S. Constitution provides that civilians run the military. Article 2 designates the president as the commander in chief and therefore the generals are obligated to execute his orders.
Top military brass should be counted on to provide advice and recommendations, but once the commander in chief gives a legal order, it is incumbent on the generals to execute, not question the directives. It is also important to note that our elected leaders and military officers exist to serve the interests and will of the American people. Large majorities of the American population and even larger percentages of veterans support Mr. Trump’s desire to withdraw; even 60% of Biden voters favor withdrawal.
Others have argued the president should let negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban play out before withdrawing. That would be a mistake on two counts. First, it should now be abundantly clear to all that whether the U.S. military is on the ground in Afghanistan or not, the violence between the Taliban and government troops continues — even during negotiations.
But it is also important to note that the Afghan government troops are holding their own against the Taliban, and there is good reason to believe they will continue doing so once our withdrawal is complete. Besides, the fight is theirs — not ours — to win or lose. Because of America’s substantial ability to defend itself worldwide from terror threats through our powerful intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance networks — and unmatched ability to conduct targeted strikes against any direct threats to our country — our security is not at risk. We will be safe without a permanent garrison of troops in Afghanistan.
It makes strategic sense for the United States to end our role in the Afghan war and withdraw our troops. If Mr. Trump’s Pentagon shakeup sets the ground for ending America’s longest war, then it’s a praiseworthy move. We should stop asking taxpayers to waste their money on an endless war and we owe it to our service members to stop risking their lives and limbs for this unwinnable war.
• Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Army lieutenant colonel who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.