Unlikely coalition of veterans backs Biden to end war in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON – Shortly after President Biden announced that the US military would be withdrawing from Afghanistan, Congressional Hawks accused him of accepting defeat. But a diverse group of veterans – many of whom had clashed bitterly over the years – stepped in to provide him with political cover.
In close coordination with the White House National Security Council, a coalition that included Concerned Veterans for America, an advocacy group funded by the Koch Network; Common Defense, a longtime antagonist of former President Donald J. Trump; and the Secure Families Initiative, a non-partisan group of military wives, wrote opinion columns, launched social media campaigns and published a series of statements pushing for an end to America’s longest war . The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans service organization, has also spoken out in favor of the new policy, to the surprise of many.
During 20 years of war, American veterans were revered by Republicans and Democrats, but lacked consistent political influence. Democrats and the agents around them often assumed that most veterans were conservatives and did not court them, and for years leaders of both parties believed that most veterans supported conflicts overseas.
But as the conflicts dragged on, veterans and military families increasingly united around critical public positions on wars and found ways to gain access to the White House to lobby. for them to withdraw.
Similar efforts by lawmakers have also brought together unlikely allies, such as Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat from California and once a Lone Voice Against Wars, and Representative Andy Biggs from Arizona.
“Veterans served as a liaison between the administration and the general public to explain the impact of two decades of war on the lives of Americans,” said Adam Weinstein, researcher at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a research organization who convened the groups and became increasingly influential among anti-interventionists in Washington. Mr. Weinstein served as a Marine and deployed to Afghanistan in 2012.
The movement against “Eternal War” began in the second half of the Bush administration, with large protests across the country focused as much on the president as on the war he was waging. It is now fueled by a politically diverse group that was energized by Mr. Trump’s contempt for American adventures abroad and by the election of Mr. Biden, who had criticized operations in Afghanistan as deputy. President.
Veterans have often argued that the mission in the region has lasted longer than its original intention and that a force composed only of volunteers should not be tasked with nation-building. But their strong support for the pullout could be put to the test if violence in the country continues to escalate with the departure of the last US troops.
“Veterans are credible messengers on issues of war and peace,” said William Ruger, vice president of research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute and Mr. Trump’s last candidate for ambassadorial post. in Afghanistan.
“They are important signals to the public and to policymakers,” said Mr. Ruger, a war veteran who remains an officer in the Naval Reserve. “It won’t be a one-act story.”
The election of President Barack Obama largely suppressed the anti-war movement because opponents of the conflicts believed he would act quickly to end it.
In the 2016 presidential campaign, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont distinguished himself from Senator Hillary Clinton on war issues. Most notably, Mr. Trump has openly criticized the conflicts, setting him apart from other Republicans on the ground and from Ms. Clinton.
“We saw the way Donald Trump exploited the frustration of wars,” said Alexander McCoy, a Marine Corps veteran and political director of Common Defense. “It was a huge danger to Democrats because veterans weren’t excited about it.” At the same time, he said, “there was an inaccurate perception among Democratic agents that veterans are conservatives. We knew we had to fix that to beat him.
Mr Trump ultimately broke his promise to withdraw the remaining troops from Afghanistan, thwarted in part by conflicts between his closest policy advisers. But as even Mr. Biden conceded, Mr. Trump has set the table.
“President Trump has helped propel the movement,” Ruger said. “This created the conditions under which the Biden administration took office.”
Towards the end of Mr. Trump’s tenure, the United States signed an agreement with the Taliban to end the conflict in Afghanistan, giving more energy to the veterans movement.
VoteVets, a group that works to elect veteran Democrats and get veterans to vote, has also furiously lobbied Mr Biden and other leading Democratic candidates for the withdrawal.
He partnered with Concerned Veterans for America, a group he had fought with over veterans policy issues and which did not support Mr Biden, to work on members of Congress to support the withdrawal .
Mr Biden, whose son Beau Biden served in the Army National Guard, signaled early on that he was open to the message. “The first thing I would do as President of the United States of America is make sure that we bring all the combat troops home and start negotiating with the Taliban,” he said on the occasion. of a debate.
Mr Biden’s stance on the war most likely helped him make inroads with veteran households in 2020, a group Mr Trump won 55-43%, down 14 points from to 2016.
The Taliban deal, Mr. Biden’s election and exhaustion with a war that left thousands dead provided a window for the groups.
“We saw this past semester as a unique opportunity over 20 years,” said Sarah Streyder, Executive Director of the Secure Families Initiative. “You had a new administration with a record of supporting this type of leadership and the legacy of the agreement. Many of our peers in this space have agreed that if we really want this politics to happen, now is the time to step up the efforts. We started shouting loudly, having meetings on the Hill and in the White House. “
White House officials have acknowledged that veterans advocates have met regularly with officials from the National Security Council and other agencies since Mr Biden’s election. “We got the signal that now is a good time to push,” Ms. Streyder said.
When Mr. Biden finally announced his plans, some veterans were more cautious. “I support the Biden administration’s decision to finally end our longest war,” said Rep. Jason Crow, Colorado Democrat and former Army Ranger. “But we must do it in a way that keeps our promises to our allies, protects the women and children of Afghanistan, and ensures a safer and more secure world.”
But a large contingent celebrated publicly, and the administration was quick to detonate these remarks. “It’s like they say in the Marines, ‘No best friend, no worst enemy,'” McCoy said, adding that his group would continue to defend Mr. Biden’s decision and criticize any other military conflict. . “They always pick up the phone when we call. “