Even before he was a candidate, President Donald Trump advocated for the withdrawal of American troops from the series of “endless wars” into which the U.S. has stumbled since 2001. From Afghanistan to Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Libya and beyond, the U.S. has been estimated to be participating in anywhere from seven to over 100 different wars since 2001.
It can be argued the president’s stance on curtailing our involvement overseas was a major catalyst for his election in 2016, and something the American people deemed to be of utmost importance. It is true that Trump has not actually ended any wars during his term. However, he is the first U.S. president in decades not to start a new one and the agreement his administration signed with the Taliban earlier this year put the United States on the path to end its longest war.
Using his remaining time in office to withdraw U.S. forces from places such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan would do much to cement his foreign policy legacy. More importantly, it is needed because an increasingly impotent Congress has failed to fulfill its role in matters of war and peace.
On this issue of war in particular, lawmakers have avoided directly addressing the topic, or when they do, borderline Orwellian “Newspeak” is used to explain away war as if it’s not actually war. Attacks on Libya were deemed “humanitarian interventions;” not actually withdrawing from Iraq was actually withdrawing, because we were only leaving “non-combat troops.”
As a former enlisted Marine infantryman, I can state unequivocally that there is nothing “humanitarian” about live ordinance. As a former Senate staffer, I can recognize how easy it is for legislators to embrace illogical rhetoric such as a “non-combat troops.”
Additionally, Congress has failed for nearly 20 years to properly address and oversee the conduct of our foreign policy. As a result, for nearly two decades the executive branch has decided almost exclusively where and when we fight.
It should be noted that not everyone in Congress abdicated their responsibilities. My former boss, Senator Rand Paul, along with Senator Tom Udall, introduced the AFGHAN Service Act in 2019, which called for and outlined a one-year withdrawal from Afghanistan. Senators Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee spearheaded legislation to end our involvement in Yemen.
The reactions from the rest of Congress were typical and predictable. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee never held a hearing on the AFGHAN Service Act. The Sanders-Lee bill amounted to nothing more than a pyrrhic victory, as it passed both houses of Congress, but was met with a veto from the president – which Congress lacked the votes to overcome.
More recently, and possibly more egregiously, are the revelations by Ambassador James Jeffrey, the former U.S. special envoy to Syria. According to a recent report, Jeffrey admitted to “playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there.” In short, it would appear he deliberately lied to prosecute his own foreign policy.
This shows contempt for both Congress, the office of the president, and the American people – insinuating none have the right or the capacity to decide on these issues themselves.
It is also one final demonstration of the internal resistance President Trump has faced while attempting to execute the policies he espoused as a candidate. Ensuring his Syria policy is fully implemented would be more than appropriate in the face of this rank dishonesty and insubordination.
Trump has roughly two months remaining in office to make a lasting political and policy impact, and there is no more important or impactful issue than ending our “endless wars.” Ending U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and any of the other dozens of places where we are militarily involved around the globe not only has the support of the American people, but also presents the opportunity to implement a better foreign policy for America’s future.
James R. Webb is a foreign policy Program Officer for the Charles Koch Institute and veteran of the war in Iraq.