Friday, May 31, 2019

How the War Party Broke Trump

Only rarely have I agreed with Trump on anything. His frequent and apparently sincere denunciations of our various wars in the Greater Middle East stand as the principal exception to that statement. As both candidate and president, Trump has repeatedly made clear his intention to extricate the United States from the vast military quagmire that his several predecessors, both Republicans and Democrats, have created in that region.

Consistency has not been a strong suit of Trump’s administration. Yet terminating our interminable wars while lowering the U.S. military profile in the Islamic world does seem to be something to which the president is actually committed.

Yet the national security apparatus and members of his own administration have opposed him every step of the way. Trump wanted U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. They are still there. He wanted U.S. troops out of Syria. They are still there. So, too, are 5,000 more in neighboring Iraq—more than 16 years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

The nominal rationale for the U.S. military presence and combat actions in the Greater Middle East changes with dizzying frequency. It once had something to do with overthrowing dictators, spreading democracy, and promoting human rights. Then, for a time, the mission was to eliminate terrorism. Somewhere along the line, it changed to promoting stability. Now, the focus has shifted to Iran, assigned a place in the pecking order of official U.S. adversaries that once belonged to Saddam, then to al-Qaeda, and then to ISIS.

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