With most Democratic presidential candidates calling for steep drawdowns in U.S. troop levels overseas, the party’s top defense lawmaker in the House is advising against too rapid withdrawals from foreign hot spots to preserve American national security interests.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a roundtable with reporters on Thursday that he is concerned by rhetoric “more generated from my side of the aisle” that U.S. military presence needs to be quickly dramatically reduced in places like Afghanistan, Africa and the Middle East.
“I think a lot of that is justifiably driven by the Iraq War and the length of the Afghanistan War,” he said. “I think that is making a lot of people mistakenly leap to the conclusion that we're better off pulling back.
“I don't think folks appreciate our presence is part of what prevents us from getting into the wars.”
Smith did not call out any presidential candidates by name. In recent debates, all of the candidates have supported near total withdrawals of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and several others have proposed sharper drawdowns of American troop levels in other regions.
This isn’t the first time Smith has called out what he sees as extreme views from his own party’s challengers to President Donald Trump.
In an interview with Defense News in January, Smith called a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from overseas missions “not a realistic foreign policy” and worried that several presidential candidates were leaning towards that approach.
“I reject the idea that the U.S. is a malign actor on the global stage,” he said then. “I think it can be a force for good, and I do think we should focus on that.”
Smith repeated that mantra on Thursday.
“Our presence has discouraged North Korea from invading South Korea, for decades,” he said. “It has discouraged China from annexing Taiwan, for decades. It is certainly a factor in (Russian President Vladimir Putin) deciding how much he wants to mess in Eastern Europe.”
Smith said he expects the upcoming annual defense authorization bill to restrict the Pentagon from large reductions in its military footprint in Africa, noting that terrorist cells in the region pose threats to U.S. national security.
He also voiced support for White House plans to reduce U.S. presence in Afghanistan, though he does not support proposals to completely abandon the region.
“We have to make choices and we can’t be everywhere and do everything, but we do have interests we’re protecting, and the military presence can help,” he said.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.