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"The president needs to go to Afghanistan"

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    Posted: 22-Dec-2018 at 12:44pm
Senior Republicans in Congress are increasingly alarmed by the Trump administration's foreign policy moves, saying the president's abrupt decisions to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and to pull back in Afghanistan will put America at risk and aggravate key allies around the globe.

"I'm going to ask for hearings like right now," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a defense hawk and normally a forceful Trump ally, told reporters Friday. "I want to know where we're going." 

If the moves are the result of Trump's "America First" agenda, Graham said, then that policy is misguided. "If America First is 'It's their problems, not ours, and we don't need allies,' that's a formula for disaster," he said.

Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the GOP chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said a U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan would have terrible consequences.

It would "complicate the remaining troops ability to protect themselves," ease pressure on the Taliban at a key moment in peace negotiations and allow ISIS and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan to regain strength and plan attacks against the U.S., Thornberry warned in a statement on Friday.

Coupled with the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday, several GOP lawmakers said they feared Trump was taking the U.S. down a dangerous path. Republicans normally reluctant to criticize Trump found themselves vocally opposed to his latest decisions.   

"I'm very concerned," said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Inhofe said he was "disappointed" in Trump's move to withdraw all 2,000 American troops from Syria and the president's proposal to cut in half the 14,000-strong American force in Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journal first reported the Afghanistan drawdown plan. 

"If he follows through (on Afghanistan) … I would think he would have a credibility problem with our allies," Inhofe said. "I would have felt better if we still had our Secretary of Defense on duty," he added, but Mattis' impending departure has deepened his unease.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Mattis' resignation letter should serve as a dire warning. In an implicit rebuke to the president, Mattis highlighted his disagreements with Trump over respect for U.S. allies and "being clear-eyed" about America's enemies.

"It makes it abundantly clear that we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances & empower our adversaries," Rubio tweeted after reading Mattis' letter on Thursday.

Rubio said he hoped lawmakers could persuade Trump to reverse course; failing that, he said, Congress needed to conduct aggressive oversight of the administration's policies.

Rubio, Graham and several other senators formally asked Trump to reconsider his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. In a letter sent earlier this week, they said it was a "premature and costly mistake that not only threatens the safety and security of the United States, but also emboldens ISIS, (Syrian dictator) Bashar al-Asad, Iran and Russia."

Graham sounded even more concerned about Trump's reported plans to remove 7,000 American troops from Afghanistan.

"If we just withdrew in Afghanistan – without it being part of a broader strategy – that would be the disaster of all disasters," Graham said. "You'd create a pathway for another 9/11 and lose all the gains we've achieved. It would be a monumental mistake."

Graham said he wanted to hear testimony from Mattis before his planned departure in February and would grill whoever Trump chooses to replace the current defense chief. He also said Trump needed to see the situation in Afghanistan first-hand.

"The president needs to go to Afghanistan. He hasn't visited our troops," Graham said. "He needs to do that."

Trump and his top advisers have rebuffed the GOP criticism and shown no signs of a willingness to reverse course.

"The progress that the Trump administration has made in defeating ISIS in Syria is extraordinary and we're very proud of that accomplishment," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview Thursday with NPR. "President Trump … has led a global American leadership campaign that is unrivaled."

Congress is limited in its ability to push back on Trump's military decisions. Lawmakers can authorize military force and defund wars, but they can't overrule the president's troop withdraw decisions. House Democrats have signaled plans for aggressive oversight of Trump's foreign policy in the next Congress, when they take control of that chamber.

The incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, blasted Trump's Afghanistan decision Friday as a "rash and poorly planned" betrayal of U.S. troops, American allies, and the people of Afghanistan.  

"Like in Syria, North Korea, China, and elsewhere in the world, the Trump Administration has no plan in Afghanistan," said Engel.

Source: USA Today
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