A high-profile split emerged Wednesday between Utah’s two Republican senators over whether President Donald Trump’s decision to drastically reduce troops in Afghanistan and Iraq is “emboldening our enemies” or is long overdue.
Sen. Mike Lee on Wednesday issued a news release to praise Trump and his action.
“It is long past time to bring our troops home,” Lee said.
“For too long, U.S. engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq has operated without a clear mission or end strategy,” he said. “In the new year, I hope to see a full withdrawal of forces and a Congress ready to repeal the outdated 2001 and 2002 for the use of military force.”
Lee also commended Trump and Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller “for their leadership.”
A day earlier, Romney, chairman of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that oversees the Middle East, said the move “risks alienating our allies and emboldening our enemies.”
The decision on troop drawdowns came eight days after the president fired Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, who had said conditions did not warrant such reductions.
The announcement by Miller, Esper’s replacement, was seen as a move by Trump to move closer to a 4-year-old campaign promise to remove troops despite concerns that it could undermine negotiations with the Taliban after not meeting required conditions for the withdrawal.
“The decision to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, and potentially elsewhere should not be based on a U.S. political calendar,” Romney said in a written statement.
“The administration has yet to explain why reducing troops in Afghanistan — where conditions for withdrawal have not been met — is a wise decision for our national security interests in the region,” he wrote.
Miller said the military will carry out Trump’s orders by Jan. 15. He said troops in Afghanistan would be reduced from about 5,000 to 2,500, and from about 3,000 to 2,500 in Iraq.
The decision in Afghanistan comes nine months after the Trump administration and the Taliban reached a deal that would remove all U.S. troops there by next year if conditions are met.
Senior U.S. military officials have raised concerns about the Taliban meeting those conditions, noting a spike in violence against Afghans and ongoing questions about whether it will break with al-Qaeda.
Romney, of course, is known as one of few Republican leaders who is outspoken with criticism of Trump. He was the first GOP senator to congratulate Democrat Joe Biden as the winner in the presidential election as Trump continues to claim he won, while Lee has so far refused to recognize Biden as president-elect.
Romney also was the only Republican senator to vote to impeach Trump.
Four years ago, Lee refused to vote for Trump and was part of a dump Trump movement at the Republican National Convention at the time. But he since converted into one of the president’s most staunch allies and campaigned for him this year — including telling Latter-day Saints in Arizona that Trump is akin to the Book of Mormon hero Captain Moroni.
Trump has dished out criticism of Romney and praise for Lee.
At a Pennsylvania campaign rally, Trump called Romney “our worst senator,” and said, “Romney couldn’t be elected dogcatcher in Utah right now.” But he said, “Mike Lee is doing excellent.” Trump also put Lee on his short list for potential future U.S. Supreme Court nominees.