Foreign Affairs and Defense

Commentary & Community

Trump Visit to Iraq Spurs Calls for Troop Withdrawal

Over the Christmas holiday, President Trump made a surprise visit to U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. This move prompted several members of the Iraqi parliament to call for the expulsion of American military personnel, an idea that has support across the Iraqi political spectrum.


Facing criticism that he was not spending Christmas with members of the military, President Trump flew to Iraq the day after Christmas to spend three hours at an Iraqi air base meeting with some of the 5,200 troops stationed in the country. This was the president’s first visit to a military zone. As part of the visit, he did not meet with any Iraqi officials, something the prime minister called a breach of diplomatic norms.


In response to this visit, members of the Iraqi parliament called for the expulsion of U.S. troops. This proposal is uniting a diverse group of Iraqi politicians who are divided on other issues. These lawmakers have promised to call a special session of the parliament to debate this issue. An Iraqi militia leader even threatened to expel the troops by force if the government did not vote to expel them.


President Obama withdrew U.S. military personnel from Iraq in 2011, but returned a few thousand to the country in 2014 to help Iraq defeat ISIS. President Trump recently announced that he was withdrawing the U.S. troops in Syria who had been fighting ISIS. The president has said that he has no plans to withdraw the troops in Iraq.


Do you think that U.S. troops in Iraq should return home?

President Trump Orders Troops out of Syria

The 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria will be coming home soon, President Trump announced yesterday. That news came as a surprise to many people, including members of his own administration.


The military personnel are in Syria to assist efforts to combat ISIS, which has largely been driven from territory in that nation. This has led the president to declare the U.S. mission accomplished and return the troops home. However, this decision appears to have been made unilaterally by the president without involving either the Department of Defense or the Department of State in how to accomplish it. As commander-in-chief, the president is ultimately in charge of where and how U.S. troops are deployed.


Supporters of this decision argue that it was unwise to involve U.S. troops in Syria. They say that since ISIS is not occupying territory there today, these troops should certainly come home. Opponents argue that without the U.S. military presence, ISIS may return. They say that removing U.S. troops will only empower Russia and Iran.


Syria is still in the midst of a civil war, with dictator Bashar al-Assad holding onto power. While he appears to have the upper hand, and is supported by Russia, there does not seem to be an end in sight for the war. This has caused a significant death toll and a refugee crisis that has destabilized the region.


While the president announced the U.S. troop withdrawal, he has not yet set a timetable for their return.


Do you think the U.S. should withdraw its military personnel from Syria? Are U.S. troops needed in Syria to prevent a resurgence of ISIS?

Senate Advances Anti-Saudi Resolution

President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress usually agree on legislative issues. When it comes to Saudi Arabia, however, there is a growing rift between the president and members of Congress from both parties. That was never more evident in a recent Senate vote on a resolution over U.S. military involvement in Yemen.


With the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabian forces and increasing evidence of atrocities by the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni civil war, members of Congress are breaking with President Trump’s support for the Saudi regime. They are pushing for a stronger response to these Saudi actions, steps that President Trump has so far resisted.


In response, the Senate voted 63-37 to bring a resolution to remove all U.S. military support from Saudi forces fighting in Yemen. From the text of Senate Joint Resolution 54:


Congress hereby directs the President to remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen, except United States Armed Forces engaged in operations directed at al Qaeda or associated forces, by not later than the date that is 30 days after the date of the adoption of this joint resolution … and unless and until a declaration of war or specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces has been enacted.


Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats, sponsored SJ Resolution 54. It has 18 cosponsors from both parties. This resolution notes that U.S. military personnel are involved with aiding the Saudi government in aerial targeting, intelligence, and other military activities in Yemen.


The Trump Administration has pushed back against withdrawing U.S. military assistance, saying that it is necessary to fight terrorism. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argues that weakening the U.S.-Saudi alliance would only strengthen Iran. Those who support the resolution say that the U.S. should not be aiding forces that kill civilians and commit other war crimes. They also note that there has been no declaration of war on Yemen or even an authorization to use U.S. military force in this conflict.


Some senators, such as Rand Paul of Kentucky, have long been pushing the Senate to act against Saudi Arabia. These efforts gained support with the weak reaction by President Trump to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Senators have requested that CIA Director Gina Haspel brief them on the murder, but she has yet to appear. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, has said he will not support the president on any major votes until this briefing occurs.


The timetable for debating the Yemeni resolution is still unclear. The lame duck session of Congress will continue through December.


Do you think that the U.S. should stop assisting the Saudi military’s actions in the Yemeni civil war?