Four years ago, Donald Trump electrified campaign audiences by denouncing “Trigger Happy Hillary” Clinton. Trump bragged in 2016 that his advisers knew “how to avoid the endless wars we are caught in now” but he has yet to deliver on what many voters believed was his most important campaign promise. Can he revive his faltering reelection bid by boldly withdrawing American troops from much of the world?
Perhaps Trump did not recognize how steeply the deck is stacked in Washington. For more than a hundred years, starting with Woodrow Wilson, presidents have lied America into foreign wars. In the landmark 1971 decision permitting The New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers, Justice Hugo Black declared that a free press has “the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers & foreign shot and shell.” Unfortunately, especially since the 9/11 attacks, the establishment American media has been among the biggest warmongers in the nation, dishonestly promoting wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and championing perpetual U.S. intervention practically everywhere. The same media that perpetually slams Trump canonized the late Sen. John McCain, the patron saint of Know-Nothing Bombing.
“Consistent” is the least likely description for Trump’s foreign policies. Prior to taking office, Trump vigorously opposed the Afghan war. In 2013, Trump declared that the U.S. “should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives.” By the time Trump took office, Afghanistan was America’s longest war and had dragged on longer than World War I, World War II and the Korean War combined. Thousands of U.S. troops had been killed there with nothing to show for their sacrifice except flags to drape their caskets. (RELATED: Afghan Government To Release 5,000 Taliban Prisoners, Restart Peace Talks With Insurgents)
However, in August 2017, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster persuaded Trump to announce a “surge” of new troops in part by showing him a 1972 photo of women in miniskirts in Kabul. Trump appeared to have gotten rolled by the Pentagon on this issue the same way that President Barack Obama was rolled to support a much larger Afghan surge in 2009. Trump’s surge did nothing to stop the advance of the Taliban. The Pentagon continued violating U.S. law by ignoring the pervasive child rape by Afghan forces subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction concluded that U.S. policymakers had been brazenly lying about progress in the war almost from its start. The United Nations reported last year that “more civilians are being killed by Afghan government and American forces than by the Taliban and other insurgents.”
In his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump reversed course on Afghanistan, declaring, “As a candidate for president, I loudly pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars.” Shortly before the speech, the vast majority of Senate Republicans voted for resolution rebuffing Trump’s attempt to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Syria. The resolution non-ironically praised U.S. troops for “protecting human rights” and warned that “withdrawal … could allow terrorists to regroup, destabilize critical regions, and create vacuums that could be filled by Iran or Russia.” But Trump proceeded with negotiations with the Taliban, resulting in an announcement in February 2020 that U.S. troops could be withdrawn within 14 months.
Congress was outraged. Last month, Wyoming Republican Representative Liz Cheney partnered with Democrats to craft a resolution denouncing “a rapid [sic] military drawdown” and blocking spending any tax dollars for troop withdrawals from Afghanistan unless a list of damned unlikely benchmarks are first achieved. Almost all the Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee voted for Cheney’s amendment. Cheney named her legislation the Afghanistan Partnership and Transparency Act, which was a hoot, considering that the U.S. government has perpetually covered up its Afghan debacles. There was a smattering of congressional opposition but, as journalist Glenn Greenwald noted, it was “no match for the war machine composed of the establishment wings of both parties and the military and intelligence community that continue to use selective, illegal leaks to sabotage any plans to reduce the U.S. military presence around the world.” (RELATED: Despite The Media’s Efforts, Trump Is Taking A Measured Approach To Foreign Policy)
Syria is the biggest and least recognized U.S. foreign policy debacle of the past decade. In 2013, as the Obama administration was ramping up support for mythical “moderate rebels,” Trump tweeted: “We should stay the hell out of Syria.” Obama’s policies were such a tangled mess that Pentagon-backed Syrian rebels were openly battling CIA-backed Syrian rebels. However, after taking office, Trump was swayed to support continued U.S. meddling. In April 2017, Trump launched a missile attack on the Syrian government based on less evidence than required for a jaywalking ticket in New York City. The following year, Trump launched another round of missile attacks based on even flimsier allegations that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons. Top officials with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons leaked information showing that the charges against the Syria government were false but the U.S. media and American politicians mostly ignored their evidence.
Trump eventually again recognized the folly of U.S. intervention and announced last October that he was shifting some U.S. troops out of eastern Syria. Trump’s political opponents quickly portrayed the move as the moral equivalent of giving Alaska back to Russia. Congress showed more indignation about the troop pullback in Syria than it has over the loss of American soldiers’ lives over the past 18 years in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. The House of Representatives quickly voted 354-to-60 to condemn President Donald Trump’s pullback as “beneficial to adversaries of the United States government.” But the U.S. intervention has been a disastrous failure that perpetuated a civil war and provided zero benefit for the Syrian people.
But Capitol Hill’s biggest anti-Trump absurdity was yet to come. Seventy-five years after Gen. Patton’s Third Army crossed the Rhine, Congress is panicking about Trump’s proposal to shift 12,000 U.S. troops (out of 34,500) out of Germany. The House Armed Service Committee voted 49-to-7 last month to prohibit “lowering troop levels below current levels [in Germany] until 180 days after Pentagon leaders present a plan to Congress and certify it will not harm U.S. or allied interests.” Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney denounced Trump’s proposal as “a gift to Russia” and a “slap in the face at a friend and ally.” The Soviet Union has not existed for almost 30 years, yet congressional policymakers apparently cannot give up the fantasy of hostile tanks facing off across Checkpoint Charlie.
In considering Trump’s foreign policy record, recall that the finest hour — or perhaps finest minute — of his presidency occurred in June 2019 when he canceled just before launch a barrage of Tomahawk missiles against Iran. After the Iranians had shot down a U.S. drone either over international water (according to the U.S.) or over Iranian territory (according to Iranians), National Security Advisor John Bolton and a neoconservative chorus howled for massive retaliation. Bolton later denounced Trump’s refusal to start a war with Iran as “the most irrational thing I ever witnessed any President do.” Trump groused that if he had listened to Bolton, “we would be in World War Six by now.” Trump hugely blundered by appointing Bolton, but firing him and refraining from a massive escalation with the Iranians were two of the most positive signs from his presidency. (RELATED: President Trump Announces Peace Deal Between Israel And United Arab Emirates)
Trump’s attempts to withdraw troops have been vehemently opposed by the type of Washingtonians whose only “combat experience” consisted of having their lunch money stolen in elementary school. But America can no longer afford to indulge its laptop bombardiers. We are spending money we don’t have to fight conflicts we don’t need to impress people who despise us.
Can Trump save his presidency by running against the warmongering Washington establishment, which includes most of Congress, as well as Joe Biden and his brigade of bellicose advisors? Would voters trust and reward Trump if he carried through with his initial preference for pulling out all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Election Day?
James Bovard is the author of “Attention Deficit Democracy,” “The Bush Betrayal,” “Terrorism and Tyranny,” and other books. Bovard is on the USA Today Board of Contributors. He is on Twitter at @jimbovard. His website is at www.jimbovard.com
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