Trump’s withdrawal from Syria saves American lives from unwinnable Middle East conflict
- Original Publication can be found here: https://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/commentary/fl-op-com-shaffer-trump-syria-withdrawal-saves-lives-20191022-5pbmxsickrbw5nby6kk4fn4npu-story.html
President Trump cares about America’s men and women in uniform in a way that his detractors can never fully understand, because he alone bears responsibility when the political class’s visions of glory give way to the grim realities of war. Plus — he understands that being tied down holding terrain makes our troops the target and removes our ability to remain agile and maintain the initiative.
When President Trump announced his decision to move American troops out of Northern Syria ahead of a military offensive by Turkey, Democrats and the Washington foreign policy establishment howled with outrage (note after years of inaction or concern under the Obama Administration whose inaction resulted in 500,000 innocent people murdered).
They simply couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t put American lives on the line in order to micromanage a geopolitical conflict on the opposite side of the world in which U.S. interests are not directly at stake — the approach that war hawks spent decades carefully instituting as America’s de facto foreign policy position and that has now been adopted by the pro-war progressive wing of the Democrat party.
President Trump has different ideas. As he said during the recent Trump rally in Minneapolis, “Take a victory, United States. Bring our troops back home.”
We are seeing the rise of the “Trump Doctrine”— a doctrine consisting of four points:
Identification of a specific threat to the American people, our interests to justify the use of military force.
Clear and concise guidance to the military to achieve military objectives as assigned within a given timeframe.
The use of allies and regional partnerships to allow for their lead in military operations.
The freedom and political will to win — to provide guidance to the military that will allow them to achieve victory.
These simple but clear policies have been absent from US strategic thinking since the Reagan era … but they are now back.
The president promised that he would not get America mired in endless, unwinnable foreign wars. The United States has already spilled too much blood and squandered too much treasure on ill-fated efforts to effect regime change in the Middle East. As President Trump frequently points out, our actions in the region have not made America any safer, despite costing thousands of lives and trillions of taxpayer dollars.
The effort to keep the Islamic State subdued will continue — there will be no diminution — but to continue this effort we don’t need to have “boots on the ground” stationed in the next valley over from them to defeat them.
When presented with an opportunity to disentangle our armed forces from yet another protracted Middle East conflict, the president wisely moved American troops out of harm’s way. The alternative, which the political establishment clearly prefers, would have meant threatening to wage war against a NATO ally on behalf of stateless rebel fighters pursuing their own agenda.
While it’s true that the Kurds shared interests in our campaign against ISIS, the jihadist caliphate has now been defeated, and American interests don’t converge with Kurdish ambitions to establish an independent state on territory currently owned by Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. In the case of the PKK, which has Marxist-Leninist political roots, it is not in the U.S. interest to support their efforts to destabilize Turkey.
As Commander-in-Chief, President Trump sees the human cost of foreign policy decisions in very real terms. The President, after all, is the one who has to send letters to the families of fallen Americans and comfort grieving mothers and fathers when their sons and daughters return home for the final time in flag-draped coffins. It’s one thing for civilian politicians, pundits, and journalists to beat the drums of war — they have the luxury of being able to view casualty reports as abstract data points — but President Trump is responsible for the lives of American servicemen in a way the warmongers will never understand.
Thankfully, our President takes that responsibility seriously. Defending his Syria strategy at a recent press conference, he told reporters that signing letters for the families of deceased soldiers is “the hardest thing I have to do.”
He returned to the subject at his recent Keep America Great rally in Minneapolis, describing in vivid detail the chilling scene of watching military families receive the coffins of their deceased loved ones.
“I saw that [plane] door open up with a coffin with a flag over it. The door was opened, and these beautiful soldiers, five or six on each side, lifting the coffin and walking down the runway… And I see parents make sounds … scream and cry like you’ve never seen before,” he recounted with undisguised emotion.
Such moments clearly weigh heavy on the President’s mind, and inform his determination to use America’s military power judiciously. When he informs parents that their son or daughter made the ultimate sacrifice for this country, Trump wants to be able to tell them that the sacrifice was not just worthwhile, but necessary.
Too many American soldiers have died in places their families and friends couldn’t even find on a map, for reasons that the politicians who sent them there could never adequately articulate. Operations that were supposed to last a month have turned into wars that last a decade. Yet, when Trump declined to get our troops involved in yet another deadly quagmire in that region, the Washington political establishment accused him of acting irresponsibly.
If we fight, we will fight to win.
If we are going to win, it will be because it is to protect American lives and our interests.
It’s not in our interest to fight endless wars with dubious or nonexistent military objectives.
But the war hawks don’t have to write the letters explaining to parents why they will never again see their child alive; they don’t have to accompany the caskets those parents weep over. Those are President Trump’s duties, and he performs them stoically. The President’s critics should consider that carefully before they condemn his efforts to end the senseless deaths and get our soldiers out of harm’s way.