WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is considering an extensive foreign policy speech ahead of the Nov. 3 election and is urging members of his national security team to speed up concrete initiatives he could highlight in his remarks, such as the withdrawal of US troops to Afghanistan, according to two senior officials. from the administration and a former employee familiar with the conversations.
The administration has publicly announced plans to reduce the U.S. presence to 4,500 troops by November, but officials said a decision has already been made to cut 3,000 or fewer troops by early 2021
However, Trump’s advisers publicly and privately withdrew his request for a full withdrawal by January.
“I don’t think there is anyone who believes we will be zero by the end of the year,” said a senior administration official.
The White House speech will focus on Trump’s policy toward China, his administration’s talks with Russia on a new nuclear weapons agreement, and his comprehensive strategy to compete with other world powers, officials said. He will also outline Trump’s efforts in the Middle East, in particular the success of his administration in facilitating normalized relations between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors.
Officials say Trump will use the moment to present himself as the first president in a decade to avoid dragging the United States into a new military conflict, focusing on his efforts to bring US troops home from war zones and the ISIS victory campaign .
No final decision has been made on the timing of such a speech or location, officials said. The president’s team has also not decided whether it will be a campaign speech or an official event at the White House, an official said.
Speaking in the final weeks of the 2020 campaign, the foreign policy speech will aim to contrast Trump’s record with that of Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Biden has been at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy as a U.S. senator for more than three decades and vice president for eight years. He emphasized his knowledge of foreign affairs and experience on the world stage. He said he supported the reduction in Afghanistan, which was based on local conditions.
He recently told Stars and Stripes he could not promise a full withdrawal of troops from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, but voiced support for fewer troops for counterterrorism operations. He said there should be a maximum of “1,500 to 2,000” troops in Afghanistan.
Trump has also criticized Biden’s approach to China. Biden has vowed as a presidential candidate to pursue an aggressive Chinese policy if elected and to give in to what he described as unfair trade practices in Beijing.
The president initiated a trade war with China and sought a new agreement, but after initial talks he reached a dead end. Trump initially praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for handling the coronavirus, but is now sharply critical of it.
Biden and Trump have opposing positions on the 2015 nuclear deal for Iran, known as the JCPOA, which was negotiated during the Obama-Biden administration. Trump withdrew the United States from JCPOA in 2018.
Officials said they expected Trump’s speech to emphasize the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, called the Abrahamic Agreements, as well as the reduction of troops in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
Trump may argue that the number of U.S. troops abroad has steadily increased for decades while Biden served in Washington, although as vice president, Biden has often advocated a smaller footprint of U.S. troops.
Biden oversaw the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, which critics say set the stage for ISIL’s rise.
Trump has repeatedly announced the end of the IS caliphate during his presidency, but ISIL remains active in the region. His strategy to fight ISIS was to accelerate that adopted by the Obama administration, and his sudden decision to withdraw US troops from northeastern Syria was seen by military leaders as potentially threatening profits against ISIL. His first Secretary of Defense, James Mathis, resigned over the decision.
Trump also said his diplomatic contact with North Korea had prevented another war, a line he could repeat in foreign policy. Negotiations between the United States and North Korea have stalled, and Kim Jong Un has continued to oppose the United States
An official in the Trump administration said Tuesday that the United States and Russia have reached a “principled agreement” to extend the current arms deal, a new START that Trump could call a victory in his speech. Speaking at the Heritage Foundation think tank, the US negotiating amb. Marshall Billingsley said the United States was ready to extend the New START if Russia agreed to freeze its nuclear arsenal.
In an August NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll, voters preferred Biden to Trump from 49 percent to 39 percent when asked who would be better at running foreign policy. A September study by the Pew Research Center found that over the past year, confidence in the United States among America’s allies has continued to decline.
“At home until Christmas”
Trump has been pushing his advisers since taking office to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
During a recent White House meeting, the issue resurfaced, officials said, and Trump insisted on withdrawing all US forces. But military advisers, including Chief of Staff Mark Millie, have spoken out to retain the so-called residual force in Afghanistan to protect the large US embassy in Kabul and conduct counter-terrorism missions, according to two senior officials in the administration and defense official.
Growing increasingly frustrated by the repulsion, Trump announced his views on Twitter. “By Christmas, we should have the small remaining number of our TWO men and women serving in Afghanistan at home!” Trump wrote last week.
Trump’s public statement was intended to “light a fire under the commanders,” a senior administration official said.
The president also sent National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien to publish a marker, officials said. O’Brien predicted the president’s decision to reduce it to about 2,500 in early 2021 during a speech at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, last week, saying, “We think Americans should go home.”
Two senior officials in the administration said the decision to reduce to between 2,500 and 3,000 by early 2021 had already been made and military planners were now working on options. But they said there were no plans to withdraw yet.
The Pentagon has not drawn up any new plans for a full US withdrawal by the end of December, senior administration and defense officials said. And the president has not ordered the military to draw up such a plan, officials said. But a senior administration official said the administration was encouraged by the Afghan talks, and if successful, more US troops could return home before the end of the year.
But the current reduction from 8,600 to 4,500 comes as the Taliban continue to violate the February 2020 peace agreement by attacking Afghan national security forces.
In February, the United States and the Taliban struck a landmark deal in Doha, agreeing that foreign troops would leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for various guarantees from the Taliban, including a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing agreement with the Afghan government.
Trump told his advisers he wanted as many servicemen as possible to return home for the holidays, the official said. In reality, 2,500 troops are as low as they currently plan to take over the United States, and there is an effort to persuade Trump to equate that to essentially zero, officials said.
A U.S. military official has warned that if Trump does not win re-election, any plans for further absorption will be called into question. “Any decision will have to be reconsidered if Biden wins the election,” the official said.
US military leaders continue to argue that any shrinkage in Afghanistan will be based on conditions on the ground. In an interview with NPR on Sunday, Millie said the current plan is to reduce it to 4,500 by November.
“This is a condition-based plan,” he said, adding that the United States continues to monitor those conditions.
While the Taliban have not attacked Americans or coalition forces since the agreement was signed, their attacks on the Afghan Security Forces (ANDSF) have continued and accelerated at times.
On Monday, a spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan said via Twitter that the United States had carried out “several targeted strikes in Helmand to protect ANDSF forces attacked by Taliban fighters.”
General Scott Miller, the commander-in-chief, wrote: “The Taliban must immediately stop their offensive in Helmand province and reduce violence in the country. This is inconsistent with the US-Taliban agreement and undermines ongoing Afghan peace talks.”
After the signing, US forces in Afghanistan launched other strikes against the Taliban to protect Afghans, but a defense official said strikes in the past few days were the largest number of engagements or the most concentrated number of strikes.