President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of forces from Syria and elsewhere is appropriate and long overdue. It’s a necessary return to America’s traditional foreign policy. It’s a rejection of the neoconservative doctrine, which has contributed to the broken state of affairs in the Middle East.
Neoconservative alarmists will stop at nothing to sustain their paradigm of more wars in more places. Others, who originally rejected the Iraq war and subsequent intervention in Syria, now scold the president for leaving. Together they are empowering the failed status quo. Rejecting this status quo is essential for America’s future.
After 9/11, America had a clear cause for war in Afghanistan. Three days later, Congress authorized war against al-Qaeda. But that doesn’t explain why we needed to get militarily involved in Iraq or Syria. At that point, neither country was directly connected to the targeted terrorist organization.
Following the Cold War, a bipartisan consensus emerged with a view that America’s security depended on spreading democracy around the globe by persuasion or by war. However, America’s post-Vietnam aversion to endless wars stood in the way of this transformative consensus.
Thus, the coup de grace for neocons was the post-9/11 war in Iraq. To get the bombing started, they used Colin Powell to present it within the post-Vietnam framework—a limited war with a limited objective: seize Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Once on the ground in Iraq, the mission changed to an ill-defined and undeclared effort to create a democratic republic of Iraq. Unfortunately, when given a vote, the various factions in Iraq simply elected authoritarians, who continued their long tradition of conflict, which has dominated the Middle East’s troubled history.
The United States cannot indefinitely be the guarantor of stability in the Middle East. American actions have ultimately empowered Iran, rather than checking its relentless efforts to destabilize the region. At some point, we must restore America’s foreign policy to more limited objectives. President Trump bringing our troops home is an essential and important step in this process. It is an overdue rejection of the flawed consensus that has caused much of this present situation. A directive to exit should not lead to a disorderly evacuation, but should empower better alternatives.
To be sure, America’s military makes even foolish missions look achievable. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines possess incredible skill, valor, creativity, resourcefulness, and compassion. I share the confidence that American saber-rattlers have in the ability of our military to solve problems. However, more wars in more places do not make America more secure. The neoconservative consensus has left America less free, less safe, and burdened by unprecedented debt.
So what becomes of the Kurds? NATO leaders must make clear to Turkey that committing genocide would mean losing its membership. The treaty group should take diplomatic, economic, and—if required—military action to prevent any NATO ally from engaging in genocide. This will force Turkey to choose its future. Does Turkey want a future with its longtime allies or does it desire a darker path towards Russia and Iran?
In the past, foreign policy hawks have sustained their consensus by labeling their opponents “isolationists.” Often it works. But as a former Army Ranger and West Point graduate, I know that if you want peace, you must prepare for war. Returning to America’s traditional foreign policy is not isolationist.
We should take President Trump’s more restrained foreign policy as a new beginning for American diplomacy. Perhaps Congress will even muster the resolve to openly debate and declare America’s wars, rather than relying on an 18-year-old authorization for use of military force. In the meantime, America’s military will rest, retool, and prepare for the future.