Just days after losing the presidential election to Joe Biden, Donald Trump almost ignited worldwide military and political chaos by demanding that the Pentagon unilaterally withdraw all U.S. military troops from Afghanistan and other posts around the world. A one-page note handed to retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor by Trump aide John McEntee read:
1. Get us out of Afghanistan.
2. Get us out of Iraq and Syria.
3. Complete the withdrawal from Germany.
4. Get us out of Africa.
“This is what the president wants you to do,” McEntee said, according to a report by Axios. And, he added, make it happen before the end of his presidency. When McGregor told the White House aide that he doubted everything on Trump’s wish list could be accomplished before Jan. 20, 2021, McEntee replied, “Then do as much as you can.”
The memo, created by Trump without the knowledge of White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, or the office of the staff secretary, which manages the paper flow to and from the president’s desk, was an attempt by Trump to shape his legacy as the president who extricated the United States from what he frequently had referred to as “endless wars.”
Axios described the memo as “an off-the-books operation by the commander in chief himself” to withdraw troops before Biden’s inauguration. Ultimately, Trump was talked down from the plan after being warned by Pentagon officials that it could allow the Taliban to take Kabul in the dying days of his presidency.
Since at least 2011, Trump the private citizen had been calling for he United States to unilaterally withdraw all military troops from their posts around the world. It became a key message of his presidential campaign and, later, of his tumultuous presidency. But for all the rhetoric, Trump was unable to make it happen. That was due in large part to the fact that many of the Pentagon’s most senior officers consistently slow-rolled his requests and found creative ways to avoid implementing what they regarded as unwise and potentially dangerous military moves.