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Trump's troop withdrawal divides Florida Republicans and leaves Democrats skeptical

By Steve Contorno, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in News & Features

"This has been the longest war in our nation's history," Gaetz said. "Our country is weary of it, even if the Armed Services Committee is not."

U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, a St. Augustine Republican who also sits on the committee, has repeatedly opposed drawing down troops going back to President Barack Obama. Waltz, a U.S. Army National Guard Special Forces officer who served multiple tours in Afghanistan, said he was "thankful" that Trump is not following Gaetz's suggestion because the remaining forces are needed for counter terrorism purposes.

"I understand the frustration. I get the soundbites," Waltz said. "But what is left out of the isolationist worldview is how many casualties will come if we have to fight our way back in."

The divisions in Florida are notable given the state's strategic importance in the country's national defense. There are 21 military bases in Florida and the state is home to about 100,000 active duty personnel. Gaetz represents many of them; so does Waltz. In January, Gov. Ron DeSantis released a state study that measured the defense industry's impact to the state at $95 billion.

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, didn't respond to requests for comment and has not weighed in publicly on Trump's latest foreign policy maneuvers.

 

Trump entered office in 2017 coming off a campaign in which he falsely insisted he never supported the invasion of Iraq. Nevertheless, he vowed to put a stop to "endless wars," as he has called them. Trump's allies have characterized the recent troop announcements as a step toward fulfilling that promise.

But Democrats are skeptical of Trump's intentions as a lame duck commander-in-chief. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, an Orlando Democrat and former Department of Defense employee, called the move "a terrible mistake."

Rep. Kathy Castor, who represents Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base, echoed those concerns. Castor, first elected in 2006 amid national fatigue over the Iraq War, said she wants to "bring our troops home" but doing so requires "a sound strategy and close work with our allies."

"I fear the dangerous whims of a disgruntled President Trump, his contempt for NATO, and failure to develop a long-term strategy weakens our hand," said Castor. "And that of President-elect Biden."

(c)2020 Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC