Here is today’s foreign policy mandate: The US is planning the withdrawal of large troops Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, Yemens Houthis being labeled a terrorist by the United States, and Armenia Foreign Minister resigns.
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Trump is expected to order troop withdrawal in Lame Duck Rush
US President Donald Trump will order a dramatic and rapid reduction in the number of US troops stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia as he seeks action from loyalists newly appointed to the US Department of Defense.
The belief that Mark Esper, the former Secretary of Defense, would not approve of further troop reductions on such a fast schedule was seen as one of the reasons for his impeachment shortly after the US presidential election.
Although the figures are not yet public, several media reports signal a halving of the current troop strength in Afghanistan from 4,500 troops currently stationed there. A reduction in Iraq would be less severe, but it is expected that almost all of the 700 US troops stationed in Somalia will return to the US.
The move is one of the rare cases in which Trump deviates from Republican Party’s orthodoxy: In his 2016 campaign, he shocked other Republican candidates in the debate phase by calling the Iraq war “a big fat mistake”. In office, he criticized the Pentagon leaders for “wanting to do nothing but wage wars for all these wonderful companies that make the bombs and planes and make everything else happy”. So it’s not yet clear if this is Trump just going back to the guy or making a quick profit to polish his credentials ahead of a possible run in 2024.
A popular move? Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned of a hasty “humiliating” withdrawal of troops, while Rep. Mark McCaul said a “residual force” was needed in Afghanistan to keep peace.
Although Republican leaders are cautious, troop withdrawal appears to be popular with the American public. According to a YouGov poll commissioned by the libertarian Charles Koch Institute in August, 76 percent of Americans supported the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, with nearly half of those polled strongly in favor of the withdrawal. The number of US troop withdrawals from Iraq was 74 percent.
The desire to end America’s wars in the Middle East and South Asia is felt similarly by US military veterans. A poll by another Koch-backed group in April found that 73 percent of veterans surveyed were in favor of a full withdrawal from Afghanistan, up nearly 13 percent from the previous year. A poll to exit the NBC News 2020 election found a 9 percent decline in the proportion of veterans who support Trump, down 51 percent, down from 60 percent in 2016.
On the ground. Emran Feroz writes from Afghanistan about the Khost Protection Force – a group set up and trained by the CIA – that the residents have learned to be afraid because they were repeatedly involved in atrocities in the region. As the United States prepares to withdraw its own troops, Feroz writes: “The PCF and other CIA-backed paramilitary groups are stepping up their attacks to assert themselves across the country.”
What we are following today
USA to label Houthis as terrorists. The Trump administration will expose Jeman’s Iran-backed Houthi insurgents as a terrorist organization, complicating the UN-brokered peace effort and leaving a potential landmine for the Biden administration, according to an exclusive foreign policy report. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, an outspoken critic of the Saudi Arabia-waged war in Yemen, has rejected this move. “There is no doubt that the Houthis waged a brutal military campaign that starved, imprisoned and killed many civilians,” Murphy said. “But if the US government wants to identify international actors for deliberately harming the civilian population in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition should also be high on that list.”
Ethiopia bombs the capital of Tigray. The Ethiopian Air Force began bombing the Tigray region’s capital, Mekelle, on Monday in yet another escalation of the country’s civil war now entering its third week. In a tweet that he later deleted, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni urged the two sides to negotiate and halt the conflict “so it doesn’t lead to unnecessary deaths and paralyze the economy”. Redwan Hussein, a government spokesman, said the war was a “short-lived operation” and mediation offers from Uganda or any other country would not be considered.
Happy for the third time? Francisco Sagasti became Peru’s third president within a week of being selected by the country’s Congress as interim chairman until the April elections. Sagasti’s party was one of the few to speak out against the impeachment of former President Martín Vizcarra. Sagasti is taking over at a time when Peru’s economy is expected to shrink a higher percentage this year than any other country in Latin America.
Armenia is seething over peace agreement. The Armenian government is under pressure after signing a ceasefire agreement with Azerbaijan in a Russian-backed agreement a week ago. On Monday, Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan resigned after a public disagreement with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan over the direction of the peace talks. The pressure on Pashinyan has shown no signs of relaxation in recent days: 17 opposition parties have called for his resignation as street protests against his leadership continue.
Brazil’s election fluctuations. Candidates backed by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro were largely turned down in local elections on Sunday when Brazilian newspaper Globo described the country’s left as “rejuvenated”. While Bolsonaro’s cousin Marcos and ex-wife Rogéria failed in their election offers, his son Carlos was re-elected as a councilor in Rio de Janeiro. Despite the election results and a raging coronavirus epidemic, Bolsonaro himself is high in opinion polls and recently posted its highest approval rating since taking office.
Russia is strengthening in Africa. Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved a proposal to build a naval base in Sudan, Russia’s first on the African continent, and has instructed his Defense Ministry to strike a deal. The base, which is planned as logistical support for the Russian Navy, can accommodate four warships at the same time and offers space for up to 300 employees. The Russian news agency TASS predicted that Russian air defense systems could possibly be housed in the base in order to set up a far-reaching no-fly zone if necessary.
Golf tensions. Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani criticized recent moves by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan to normalize relations with Israel, saying the warming of relations made the possibility of Palestinian statehood further removed. At a security conference, al-Thani called for a unified Arab front as the best way to support Palestinian interests. Qatar is still a kind of pariah among the Arab states as it remains under a blockade imposed by other golf leaders in 2017.
Queen Elizabeth II was mistakenly pronounced dead yesterday when her obituary was prematurely published on Radio France Internationale (RFI) website. The Queen was one of many notable living personalities on whom RFI published obituaries: Brazilian soccer player Pelé, actors Brigitte Bardot and Clint Eastwood, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and former US President Jimmy Carter were found after a “technical problem” presented. led to their early publication. According to RFI, a total of about 100 pre-written obituaries were posted due to a mistake in migrating the site to a new service. it conducts an internal investigation.
That’s it for today.
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Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski / AFP