Some readers consistently claim we don’t give President Trump enough credit in this space, so let’s acknowledge America’s 45th commander in chief for a true Christmas miracle -- that in this season where we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, the president has united forever-feuding top Republicans and Democrats inside the nation’s capital ...
... over their shared affinity for waging war.
Yes, Trump’s sycophantic ex-rival-turned-ally, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, staged a bug-eyed meltdown after Trump’s tweets to the world that America is abruptly ending its military involvement in Syria, taking to the floor of the Senate to rip the move as “a stain on the honor of the United States” that should be confronted by Congress --something that hasn’t happened during the previous 23 months of insanity known as the Trump administration.
Yet Graham’s shocked and alarmed reaction really didn’t sound much different from that of the Democrat who nearly became our current president, Hillary Clinton. Yes, that Hillary Clinton, of the “lock her up” chants from Trump’s rabid base who somehow remain convinced that the Democrats' 2016 presidential nominee is some kind of she-devil traitor. Clinton tweeted: “Isolationism is weakness” and “This president is putting our national security at grave risk.”
Yes, Virginia, there is bipartisanship in Washington. It exists as certainly as drones and Hellfire missiles and perpetual global warfare exist -- as long as what’s at stake is the continuation of a war that last persisted for almost all of our deepening 21st century, in a world when 2001′s-kindergartners-turned-2019′s-grad-students have never known life on Earth when American troops weren’t based in a shifting array of faraway lands for ever-shifting reasons with occasionally shifting allies, backed by flying death robots that can strike a village or even a wedding at a moment’s notice.
Democratic and Republican presidents and Republican and Democratic Congresses come and go, but one party never cedes power in Washington: The war party. And that central fact of American life was never more on display than during the last week, in the chaotic aftermath of Trump’s abrupt Syria maneuvers, with the resignation in protest of Defense Secretary James Mattis and America’s coordinator of our anti-ISIS allies, plus news of an order to withdraw some 7,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Lawmakers who over the last two years were only blandly “concerned” -- if they cared at all -- by a bat-guano crazy president who confessed on tape to sexually assaulting women, fired the FBI director and conducted a slow-motion “Saturday Night Massacre” to mess with a probe into his criminality, was identified in legal papers as mastermind of a felony scheme around winning the 2016 election and lit a massive coal fire while the world is already ablaze from climate change are now, suddenly, outraged.
On one level, the outrage is 100 percent understandable. Governing by fiat on Twitter isn’t government, it’s another form of Trump-fried authoritarianism. Trump did promise in his 2016 campaign that we wanted to end or sharply reduce American fighting in the Middle East and elsewhere -- a worthy goal that I and probably a majority of Americans support -- but getting there the right way takes hard work, not exactly the hallmark of this administration. It means working with the allies and congressional leaders who weren’t even notified of the Syria move.
And sometimes poorly planned maneuvers in the name of peace can lead to more death -- and so abandoning that region’s Kurdish fighters to a Turkish slaughter without a workable plan is not morally defensible. Even the longtime leading domestic voice against U.S. militarism, Noam Chomsky, doesn’t like the way this is being done.
Then there’s the complete compromise of Trump and his presidency because of his corrupt dealings with Russia, Saudi Arabia and other foreign powers. In a perfect world, the rational foreign policy objectives of the United States will sometimes align with these “frenemies,” but often they will not. With Trump, we have no idea if his never-ending kowtowing to Vladimir Putin is because Russia worked to steal the 2016 election on his behalf, or if he promised a Syria withdrawal long sought by Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to calm the furor over Saudi Arabia’s murder of a Washington Post journalist in Istanbul.
Donald Trump is a disgrace -- so much so that he should resign the presidency, immediately. The chaos in the Middle East and the Mattis resignation isn’t even that high on a list that includes shutting down the federal government to appease Fox News Channel and radio hosts, his dictatorial threats to fire the Federal Reserve chairman and meddle in a federal criminal probe, his hush-money scheme that violated federal election laws, his wantonly illegal charity, and his years of sexually harassing and abusing women.
It’s stunning to remember that by the fall of 1998, more than 115 American newspapers had called on Bill Clinton to resign for lying about oral sex in a civil lawsuit -- which seems like it would struggle to make the Top 20 on a list of Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors. But zero newspapers have urged Trump to step down.
The American system is badly broken. But ...
Just because the president is acting insane doesn’t mean winding down the 2001-created “forever war” is a crazy idea. Indeed, one of the bigger disappointments of these 23 months is that not only did Trump not try to -- rationally -- keep his promise to pull back U.S. militarism, but he increased it. In 2017, U.S. coalition bombing in Iraq and Syria killed more than 6,000 people -- including innocent civilians -- which was a 200 percent increase over the last year of the Obama administration. Every month or two there is news of a U.S. military operation -- whether it’s a botched raid in Niger, a cruise-missile strike on a Syrian government airfield, America’s contribution to a humanitarian crisis in Yemen or the latest bomb-dropping in Somalia -- in some faraway country that most Americans didn’t realize we were at war with.
That’s because we’re not, really. The beyond-flimsy rationale for Americans to kill people around the globe is a 2001 authorization to fight against al-Qaeda, the terror group that was behind the 9/11 attacks but had declined in relevancy even before the 2011 killing of its founder Osama bin Laden. The foreign rebels we fight today are often more-than-six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon removed from al-Qaeda and -- unlike the situation in 2001 -- pose little or no threat to the United States mainland that couldn’t be addressed through intelligence and law enforcement, as opposed to battlefield warfare.
Without a new authorization from Congress, America’s “forever war” isn’t really legal. What’s more, to borrow a phrase from ex-President Obama, key elements of this never-ending conflict are becoming a “dumb war.” Can anyone credibly explain our current objective and realistic purpose for keeping 14,000 American troops in a hopeless stalemate in Afghanistan after more than 17 years? It’s a situation that screams out for a negotiated settlement -- and for not one more American death. Yet Lindsey Graham, Hillary Clinton and their favorite generals who’d keep troops there until ... 2030? 2050? These are “the adults in the room?”
The good news is that there is an opposition to “the war party” on Capitol Hill. The bad news is that it’s currently very small. One of its leaders is California Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna. In the aftermath of last week’s Trumpian chaos, Khanna told The Intercept that he plans to work with other progressive members of Congress on measures -- including, possibly, a new war-related resolution -- with the goal of ending the generation-old war in Afghanistan.
"I believe we need to pull our troops out of Afghanistan,” Khanna told them. “Taliban controls 70 percent. When the surge happened, Taliban controlled 40 percent. We aren’t making any progress there.” He called for seeking solutions with the other big regional players -- friend and adversary alike -- for a peace plan that might, among other things, free up the $43 billion a year we now spend in Afghanistan for more productive measures at home. “In sum, Trump’s instincts to withdraw are correct,” Khanna said, “but the tactical implementation matters.”
It’s outrageous that we don’t hear this viewpoint more on TV and elsewhere in the media. The American people have been robbed of a real debate on an issue that has cost more than $1 trillion in taxpayer dollars as well as thousands of lives. Many would disapprove of our current policies -- if more people were aware of them. This issue needs to be front and center in what’s certain to be a contentious 2020 presidential race, and not an afterthought, as foreign policy so often is.
And yes, Afghanistan is the easy part. The Middle East is more complicated -- the stated desire of curbing Iranian influence is understandable, and yet there’s no real debate about U.S. support for the expanded influence of a nation that murders journalists, jails and tortures women’s rights activists, and supplied 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers -- Saudi Arabia. Somehow all this militarism is supposed to make America safer, and yet we lost far more Americans fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq than were killed in the 2001 attack, and the remaining terrorism threat is domestic lone wolves angry that America seems to be in a “forever war” with much of Islam. Which we seem to be, with most policymakers too afraid to think outside of the box of perpetual violence.
Maybe some holiday season “peace on Earth and goodwill toward men” won’t be only a platitude from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Apparently not this year.