‘We’ve been there too long’: Retired Navy Adm. Joe Sestak would pull troops out of Afghanistan as president

Former two-term Pennsylvania Congressman made a late entry into the race, but he’s traveling around Iowa to introduce himself as a retired Navy admiral experienced in foreign affairs.


Sarah Watson, Politics Editor

Retired three-star Navy Adm. Joe Sestak, who did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, says that as commander-in-chief, he wants to bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table and get U.S. troops out of the Middle East.

“We need to convene the world in that area,” Sestak said at a campaign stop in Coralville. “We and other interested parties should bring about a peace accord. We’ve been in [Afghanistan] too long. We need to do this.”

Sestak served in the U.S. Navy for 31 years, including commanding an aircraft carrier battle group that conducted combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Last week, President Trump announced the U.S. had pulled out of negotiations with the Taliban to end the 18-year U.S. presence in Afghanistan after a U.S. soldier died in Afghanistan.

Sestak said his two priorities in a deal with the Taliban and Afghan government would include an enforcement mechanism to keep the Taliban sticking to the terms of an agreement and promoting women’s rights in the country.

A late entry in the presidential race, Sestak is relying heavily on his foreign-affairs experience in his presidential pitch to Iowans.

Over tacos-in-a-bag at Vesta in Coralville, Sestak told the Coralville-North Corridor Rotary Club on Sept. 18 that the U.S. needed a world affairs leader in the Oval Office, frequently using military analogies to describe leading the U.S. in the right direction on foreign policy.

“America’s greatest power is the power to continue to bring the nations and the peoples in the world together for common causes,” Sestak said.

The visit was his 11th public stop in Iowa this month, according to the Des Moines Register caucus candidate tracker.

Sestak sees the United States as convening global power, and the person in the Oval Office should be ready to unite allies against perceived conflict and global problems.

As commander-in-chief, he would address what he calls the rise of an illiberal China and said he would be better at weighing the costs and benefits of getting into a war, criticizing the U.S. involvement in Iraq.

On domestic policy, Sestak supports investing in a rigorous job-training program and starting new infrastructure projects.

The former two-term Pennsylvania congressman entered the presidential race in June, several months after many other candidates, because of the return of his daughter’s glioblastoma — a type of brain cancer.

Sestak campaigned at the Iowa State Fair and since has been making the rounds to suburban and rural parts of Iowa.

Rural Johnson County resident Vicki Struzynski-Olson, a past president of the Coralville-North Corridor Rotary Club, said she hasn’t yet decided on a Democratic candidate to caucus for, but she thinks each has something valuable to bring to the conversation.

For Sestak, she said, she’s impressed with his military career, calling him “admirable.” Although she hadn’t heard anything about Sestak until he came to speak with the rotary club, she said in-person meetings were invaluable.

“There’s a certain amount of personal connection you can only make face-to-face,” she said about presidential hopefuls visiting Iowa.