One of the reasons Donald Trump got elected president was because he spoke the truth about our nearly two decades-long foreign policy in the Middle East.
The gist of his argument was: We’ve spent trillions of dollars on wars, occupation and nation-building in the Middle East and have achieved nothing. Our soldiers have suffered grievously with our military adventurism. That money could’ve been better spent on domestic nation-building to help Americans lead better lives.
Whatever one thinks of Trump and his character, his argument was sound and was embraced by tens of millions of Americans. It also echoed what another populist, Bernie Sanders, was saying in much of 2016.
With this argument, Trump was able to pulverize the foreign policy establishment wings of both parties, represented by Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.
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Fast forward to 2018, and to Trump’s unilateral decision to withdraw roughly 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, overriding the advice of his generals and almost the entire foreign policy establishment.
Elites want the US in Middle East conflict forever
Many foreign policy and military elites and experts have been crying foul in recent weeks. The usual arguments have unfolded: America is in retreat and its global leadership role will be weakened; we’ll cede Syria to Russia and Iran; our ally Israel will be threatened and so on and so forth.
In other words, America should have a military presence forever-and-ever, till death-do-us-part in several Middle Eastern countries.
One can’t help noticing that many of these people are the same “experts” who thought it a good idea to advance regime-change in Iraq and Libya, who are now advocating the same in Syria, and who think occupying Afghanistan for 17-years-and-running is sound.
Why are we still listening to them? They may have impeccable credentials, but their motives, judgment and agendas can often be suspect.
Between the neoconservatives and the liberal interventionists in our foreign policy establishment, America has become toast.
Suggestions for future military interventions
As a party-less, ideology-less independent voter who only wants the best for America, I’ll take political courage and common sense wherever I can find them. So I applaud Trump’s courage, pragmatism and independence in bucking our military-industrial complex.
Going forward, I have three humble suggestions for any gung-ho military interventions:
One, we sorely need separate congressional authorization for each new military incursion. That means exhaustive hearings, democratic debate and public consensus.
One problem we’ve had since the 2001 terrorist attacks is that we’ve had a roving, all-purpose AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force) that has been used and/or abused to initiate, expand and/or unendingly keep our armed forces in an increasing number of Muslim-majority countries.
Does the American public even know the size and nature of our post-2001 expanding military footprint?
Two, for the love of God, let’s spread the sacrifice around. When commentators like Max Boot, Joe Scarborough, Bret Stephens and other foreign policy and media elites send their grown children to fight in the Middle East, Middle America’s sons and daughters can go too. Otherwise, no can do.
Three, for any new future military interventions there ought to be clear goals and a clear exit strategy delineated with no room for mission-creep and endless quagmires.
One reason we admired President George H.W. Bush was because he kept the 1991 Gulf War in check and didn’t get us embroiled in Iraq. Let’s emulate that restraint and wisdom.
There will always be strife and chaos in the Middle East due to the centuries-long Shiite-Sunni enmity. Our military presence there doesn’t mitigate it; we are, in some ways, participants there and often end up sowing more discord and creating more terrorists.
And of course there are the unforeseen, unintended consequences: Our Iraq misadventure ended up empowering Iran and imperiling the Christian minority in Iraq. Our Libyan fiasco ended up creating the refugee and migrant crisis affecting Europe.
To the American voter I’d humbly say: Think for yourself. Don’t fall for the same tired drumbeats. Reject blind loyalty to party and ideology. Realize that in the issues of illegal immigration and war especially, there are vested interests with ulterior motives pushing counter-intuitive policies. Always keep America’s interests in mind.
Saritha Prabhu is a columnist for the Tennessean, where this column originally appeared.