Conservatives knew that President Barack Obama lied to them in 2011.
“Iraq’s not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq with a representative government that was elected by its people,” Obama proudly declared to soldiers in Fort Bragg part way through his first term. “We’re building a new partnership between our nations and we are ending a war not with a final battle but with a final march toward home.”
The Obama administration established a false dichotomy to justify prematurely rushing American forces out of Iraq, leaving behind a power vacuum and a few hundred remaining members of al Qaeda ready to percolate in to the next and more dangerous generation of violent, radical Islamists. When then-presidential challenger Mitt Romney lambasted Obama’s haste, the president mocked him, framing the Iraq discussion as a matter of leave now or stay forever.
It was a false dichotomy then, and it’s a false dichotomy now. President Trump’s most ardent and blind defenders sound more like Ron Paul than card-carrying Republicans in their defense of Trump’s rash and poorly executed decision to withdraw from Syria, where the number of remaining ISIS combatants is orders of magnitude greater than that of the number of al Qaeda members still in Iraq during the Obama withdrawal.
“Ending a policy of endless war is never going to be easy, there will always be trade offs, and yes there are risks,” wrote Buck Sexton. “But the alternative is endless war.”
But there are other alternatives. We can leave Syria when there aren’t still 20,000 to 30,000 ISIS combatants at large and Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran are no longer at large in the region. But to act as though if we don’t leave Syria at this exact moment — and we have to broadcast it to the world and show our hands — otherwise we’re condemned to eternal war is pure intellectual dishonesty.
You don’t have to be a warmongering neocon to understand that Trump’s strategy here — or total lack thereof — mimics Obama’s on two fronts: the total lack of covertness in publicizing his timetable and the pace of the timing itself. Conservatives correctly excoriated Obama for revealing his irresponsibly rapid plan to the public, and they ought to critique Trump for doing the same. The Associated Press reports that even Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has everything to gain in an eventual American exodus from the region and pushed Trump to do so, “cautioned Trump against a hasty withdrawal,” after being shocked by his cursory strategy.
Still, the “endless war” strawman has bled throughout Trump’s base.
“Requiring ‘enduring defeat’ in Syria will only result in endless war,” tweeted Sean Davis. (It won’t.)
“Maybe in a nation of 330 million we can find a Sec Def with the right views on China and Russia, who isn’t for gender dysphoria, bribing Iran, and endless Middle East War,” said Steve Deace. (Not really sure how gender dysphoria, a DSM-recognized psychological affliction, fits in there, but that was Mattis.)
“Mad Dog Mattis has been looking for an exit opportunity. [Trump] pull out of Syria gave Mad Dog one that preserves his war monger cred,” wrote Eric Bolling, who, might I add, was fired from Fox News for sexually harassing multiple female colleagues over a number of years. (Also, probably not super wise to smear a war hero who loyally served Trump for two years!)
Our Syria operation has been small, targeted, enormously effective, and resulting in limited bloodshed. Five U.S. forces have died in Syria since 2014, and specifically thanks to the Trump administration’s empowerment of our armed forces, the U.S. has decimated ISIS. But combatants and nefarious forces ready to fill a vacuum still remain.
“I’ve done more damage to ISIS than all recent presidents….not even close!” bragged the president. Although his only has one comparison, he’s not wrong at all. The military under Trump has killed up to 80,000 jihadists, with American forces empowered by the Trump administration in a way they never were during Obama’s presidency bringing ISIS fighters to their knees, forcing hundreds to surrender.
The press and the public haven’t given Trump the credit he deserves for the incredible progress we’ve made in destroying the caliphate and liberating millions, but his choice to immediately leave the region to Putin, Iran, and Islamists is mistaken. Staying in Syria for now doesn’t mean committing to endless war; it means that we can avoid another one in the future.