Americas's Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq & Syria: Trump Can End Them

Soldiers assigned to First Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment, Illinois Army National Guard, prepare for an advise and assistance mission in southeastern Afghanistan, September 17, 2019. (Master Sergeant Alejandro Licea/US Army)

If we want to end these wars, we can look to Trump and say: “Do it, or we’ll find someone who will.”


ET’S BRING THEM HOME! @TuckerCarlson,” Trump tweeted Wednesday, sharing a clip of Tucker Carlson’s nightly Fox News show. “THEM” is the troops. The clip was about how much Establishment Washington remains committed to keeping America involved in Syria’s civil war, and in Afghanistan. But I’m wondering who Trump thinks is the subject of his ejaculatory tweet.

Trump can bring the troops home from Afghanistan and from Syria. He can bring the American forces back who are currently helping Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Or who are deployed in Operation Juniper Shield in Niger. Trump should figure out that if they had been popular wars, Congress would have authorized them. They’re not. They were authorized by his predecessors, and he doesn’t need permission to end them.

In December 2018, Trump himself announced that the United States was getting out of Syria. It’s worth remembering the details. During a phone call with Turkish president Recep Erdogan, Trump asked whether the Turkish military could mop up the last remnants of ISIS if the United States leaves. After Erdogan answered in the affirmative, Trump shouted down the line at his then national-security adviser, John Bolton, “Start work for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.”

This phone call had happened after a long policy process at the White House in which the staff had pressured Trump into a longer presence in Syria. In the scene, you can practically feel Trump searching far beyond his own White House for options that his advisers refused to give him. On Twitter, Trump declared the news of our boys and girls coming home.

Over the next weeks and months, a thing identified in the press as “the White House” announced that in fact 200 troops would remain in Syria. Then it was reported in the Wall Street Journal that it would be 1,000. Then came some hints that the number of U.S. personnel may in fact increase.

A president should be capable of asking for feasible plans that meet the promises he campaigned on, especially when they involve popular sentiments such as getting the United States out of quagmires. If resistance comes, the president’s job is to say, “Do it now, or I’ll find someone who will.” But Trump can’t — or won’t.

As Carlson pointed out on his show, nobody can explain what mission our troops are supposed to be serving in Syria. In fact, we know what it is. The mission is mission creep itself. Public support has always remained against the hope of Washington’s mandarins to effect regime change in Syria. Public support for dismantling ISIS only emerged after it beheaded Americans. There is no acceptable “successor” government to that of Bashar al-Assad. There is no plan for dealing with the unrest of Alawites in Syria if he were deposed — except presumably the hope that the retributive violence of unleashed Sunni fanatics sent them running away as refugees.

There is no plan for mollifying or making Russia accept an outcome that would likely deprive it of its very limited naval assets in the Mediterranean. There is just the hope that by hanging around and keeping the disorder up, some new opportunity will just present itself.

Donald Trump would later try to work on a policy process to finally wind down the war in Afghanistan, and bring back roughly half of the 8,500 (officially acknowledged) troops there before the November election. As the plans were being rolled out, he was immediately hit with anonymously sourced stories about “Russian bounties” for U.S. troops killed there, which made any drawdown look like a cave-in to Putin, rather than cutting our losses in a graveyard of empires. As I write, generals are still announcing that this plan and other troop drawdowns in Iraq are forthcoming.

We’ll see if it happens. At this point, we should have our doubts. Trump hasn’t been able to bring himself to take control of the foreign-policy process. Instead, he tweets about his own authority as if speaking in the third person. Donald Trump doesn’t act like a president. He acts like a man watching the TV-show version of his presidency.

Citizens have a job, too. If we want to end these wars, we can look to Trump and say: “Do it, or we’ll find someone who will.”

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