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Hawley Bucks Trend, Backs Afghanistan Exit

By siding with Trump’s push to leave the country, the rising star senator distinguishes himself on the right.
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Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., allied himself with the White House and those calling for a swift exit from Afghanistan on Tuesday.

“I write to express my support for President Trump’s plan for the prompt withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan,” Hawley wrote to the acting Defense secretary, Christopher C. Miller. “The costs of the war in Afghanistan continue to mount, and they are borne disproportionately by working Americans. … For these reasons, majorities of Americans, including veterans of the war itself, have long called for an end to the war in Afghanistan. Yet most of our nation’s policymakers have ignored them.”

Hawley’s signaling is significant because it runs counter to the political assault on the Hill by Republicans to stop President Trump’s plot to exit from the troubled theater in his administration’s closing days. On Monday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed, in no uncertain terms, his vociferous opposition to a further drawdown: “A rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight the people who wish us harm.” 

McConnell was joined by Michael McCaul, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, among others, in expressing his displeasure with recent developments in President Trump’s national security team. An embattled Trump has suddenly cleaned house at the Pentagon, in a maneuver widely described as essentially outlaw. 

Trump’s moves at DoD are seen as part score-settling— and part delivering on a major campaign promise. If he sticks the landing, Trump’s acolytes insist drawing down further in Afghanistan cracks the door open still wider for a potential 2024 repeat run. 

“You wrote recently, ‘All wars must end,’” Hawley wrote to Miller. “The time has come to end the war in Afghanistan. I urge you to stand with President Trump and bring our troops home as expeditiously as possible.”

Hawley has now staked out new territory, putting finishing touches on a Afghanistan policy he has been developing for some time. In September, he told this magazine: “It’s time for a strategic refocus. …We have spent too much time on adventures in the Middle East and elsewhere that do not serve our strategic aims and place enormous burdens on the class of working men and women who fight our wars.”

Notably, Hawley’s statements stand apart from other Republican senators, who are keen to enhance their bona fides to become the leader of a future, “realigned” Republican Party.

Echoing McConnell, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida told Politico: “The concern would be it would turn into a Saigon-type of situation where it would fall very quickly and then our ability to conduct operations against terrorist elements in the region could be compromised. … That’s my primary concern right now.”

But the leadership class in Republican Washington continues to mostly diverge from those reading the tea leaves on the future of the party. Rubio was not joined by Sen. Tom Cotton, who is traditionally seen as the most hawkish of the trio. Cotton has previously noted that he shares Trump’s frustration with the war. And Ted Cruz, another 2024 contender, has so far been silent. 



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