Bring the troops in Iraq home, too

President Donald Trump surprised Republicans, Democrats and much of the world as he announced last week, just in time for Christmas, that the United States plans to withdraw all 2,000 troops currently in Syria and half of the 14,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan and bring them all home.

For the parents and families of those troops, that news was most certainly welcome, as it means loved ones would be out of harm’s way and back home, but for those in Congress and Trump’s administration, the news was akin to yanking the rug out from under them. Jim Mattis resigned as Pentagon chief in protest. Mattis had noted in September that the U.S. military remained in Afghanistan to ensure security at home.

In Trump’s view, the Islamic State — the main impetus for the U.S. still being in Afghanistan and Syria — has been defeated and reduced to a couple of minor pockets of enemy fighters. As such, we don’t need to commit that much manpower to fighting the terrorist organization.

“Now is the time for our troops to come back home,” Trump said in a video on Twitter where he also described how “heartbreaking” it is to have to write letters and make calls to the loved ones of those killed in battle.

Despite all the plans that the president has to bring troops home, he’s not planning to reduce or completely pull out our forces from Iraq. Ironically enough, Iraq is one country that wants America to pack up its stuff and leave.

Trump’s little holiday visit to the troops currently stationed in Iraq set off that country’s politicians, saying our continued presence in their country is “arrogant” and “a violation of national sovereignty.” Trump’s statement about keeping troops in Iraq as a jumping off point in case Syria becomes an issue again also ignited some anti-U.S. statement, with one politician saying Trump is treating Iraq like one of the United States.

If the president is truly interested in bringing our freedom fighters home — thus reducing the time he spends with unpleasant phone calls and letters — then he should call home the troops in Iraq, as well. Not doing so acts as a veiled threat to neighboring countries like Syria, and to use our troops like pawns on a chess board is immoral for any president to do.

“Iraq should not be a platform for the Americans to settle their accounts with either the Russians or the Iranians in the region,” said Hakim al-Zamili, a senior lawmaker in al-Saidi’s Islah bloc in Parliament. He’s right. If we’re going to feud or go to war against other countries, what right do we have to use Iraq as a base of operations? We’re pulling out of two of the three battlegrounds now — Syria and Afghanistan — so we should do the same with Iraq.

In Iraq, we have lost 4,541 U.S. soldiers up to now, including 18 this year. That’s almost double the military losses, 2,372, we’ve suffered in Afghanistan. Admittedly, most of the casualties were in the first few years when we were hunting for Hussein, but with the dictator long gone, how much of a need is there for our presence from a country whose officials would just as soon we leave?

Casualties aside, we also have countless people returning from combat dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, physical ailments, injuries that do not heal and memories of horrors that cannot be erased. That impacts families, communities and our country as a whole.

All of our soldiers are equally valuable. Why are we removing our troops in some countries but not others? The president’s random decision-making is not only baffling, it’s dangerous — especially to the young men and women who serve.

The Associated Press is reporting that both sides of Iraq’s political system are calling on the country’s parliament to vote to expel U.S. forces from the country. Why wait for the troubled country to send us an eviction notice? Why risk further American lives when Iraq decides it’s time to push us out the door?

Iraq seems to no longer be interested in our help. If that’s the case, let’s bring our troops in that country home. If we’re going to pull the plug on America’s military influence throughout the world, let’s include the troops in places where we’re not appreciated. If the president is not going to do this, then he shouldn’t be giving the American people the sob story of wanting to end the letters and calls to families of fallen soldiers. Bring them home, Mr. President. Bring them home now.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for The Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com.