Democrats dif­fer on wars with no clear exit plan

Antelope Valley Press - - SECOND FRONT - By ROBERT BURNS

WASHINGTON — The Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial field is united in lam­bast­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s han­dling of Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Mid­dle East, but the can­di­dates are sharply di­vided on how to do it bet­ter. Their so­lu­tions range from pulling out to cut­ting back.

Aside from re­ly­ing more heav­ily on al­lies and di­plo­macy, the Democrats are im­pre­cise about end­ing Amer­ica’s “end­less wars.” They spoke in un­usual de­tail about their Mideast pol­icy views in Tues­day night’s de­bate in Des Moines, Iowa.

Sens. El­iz­a­beth War­ren of Mas­sachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont took the more ag­gres­sive stances on re­duc­ing the U.S. mil­i­tary role in the Mideast. For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota called for a con­tin­ued though cur­tailed pres­ence. Pete But­tigieg, the for­mer mayor of South Bend, In­di­ana, broadly spoke of re­main­ing “en­gaged with­out hav­ing an end­less com­mit­ment of ground troops.”

War­ren says it’s time to stop ask­ing the mil­i­tary to solve prob­lems that re­quire po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tions, in­clud­ing in Afghanista­n, where about 13,000 U.S. troops are per­form­ing two main mis­sions: train­ing and ad­vis­ing Afghan forces in their fight against the Tal­iban and con­duct­ing di­rect com­bat against an af­fil­i­ate of the Is­lamic State group.

The war in Afghanista­n, which the U.S. started by in­vad­ing in 2001, has lasted longer than any in Amer­i­can his­tory.

“We need to get our com­bat troops out,” War­ren said twice dur­ing the de­bate. In one case she was re­fer­ring to Afghanista­n; in the other, the broader Mid­dle East. Diplo­mats have tried, with some re­cent signs of po­ten­tial suc­cess, to bring the Tal­iban and the Afghan gov­ern­ment to the ta­ble to ne­go­ti­ate a peace deal. The U.S. mil­i­tary’s pre­vail­ing view is that a sud­den U.S. pull­out would em­bolden the Tal­iban, leave the Afghan gov­ern­ment vul­ner­a­ble and un­der­mine near-term chances of end­ing the war.

Three pres­i­dents have strug­gled with the Afghanista­n problem, start­ing with Ge­orge W. Bush, who or­dered the in­va­sion in Oc­to­ber 2001 in re­sponse to the 9/11 at­tacks by al-Qaida, which the Tal­iban rulers of Afghanista­n had been har­bor­ing at the time. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama cam­paigned on end­ing the Iraq War, which Bush started in 2003, but Obama saw Afghanista­n as the “good war,” and he vastly in­creased the U.S. troop com­mit­ment there in 2009.

Bi­den, who as vice pres­i­dent had un­suc­cess­fully urged Obama to nar­row the U.S. mil­i­tary mis­sion in Afghanista­n to coun­ter­ing ter­ror­ism rather than build­ing up the Afghan army and po­lice, did not di­rectly ad­dress Afghanista­n dur­ing Tues­day’s de­bate.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

(From left) Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, D-Mass., and for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den raise their hands as can­di­date Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks Tues­day in Des Moines, Iowa.

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