Just like trade wars, shooting wars are a lost easier to start than they are to end.
Earlier today, Trump tweeted:
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
The Wall Street Journal and others have quoted military officials saying things such as, "The Pentagon has an order to move troops out of Syria as quickly as possible." The same articles are quick to note that many in the White House and Pentagon are against removing the slightly more than 2,000 troops and that, in any case, the U.S. will remain a presence in the region:
A White House official said that "U.S. forces will continue the fight against ISIS" and added that the U.S. would also use "tools of national power, including economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure" to combat the influence of Iran in the region. "Iran knows the U.S. stands ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests," the official said.
Reuters is reporting a slightly different version of events but with the same endgame:
All U.S. State Department personnel are being evacuated from Syria within 24 hours, a U.S. official told Reuters, after the White House said it had started withdrawing U.S. forces.
The official said the U.S. plans to pull military forces out of the country once the final stages of the last operation against Islamic State is complete, and that the time-frame for the troop pullout is expected to be between 60 to 100 days.
The decision came after a phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan on Friday. "Everything that has followed is implementing the agreement that was made in that call," the official said.
Among the critics of the pullout is Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R–Ill.), a veteran himself:
Really? Iran is rejoicing right now. We left Iraq, and had to come back. I would sure hope the President and his advisers are smarter than this. https://t.co/pPxSZt2hO0
— Adam Kinzinger (@RepKinzinger) December 19, 2018
We left Iraq, and had to come back.
Memo to Kinzinger and other hawks: That's exactly the problem. The more we intervene, especially without clear goals and shared understanding of victory, the more we have "to come back," if we ever get around to leaving in the first place. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a non-sequitur in what was then called the Global War on Terror. As I wrote in 2002 (!), when the George W. Bush administration first started publicly floating plans to (re)invade Iraq:
Having failed to find Osama bin Laden and thoroughly quash Al Qaeda, it almost seems as if Bush is simply hell-bent on attacking Iraq because he can. The current debates taking place within the Bush administration and the U.S. Senate will hopefully stay that apparent decision, which will not make the legitimate goals of the war on terrorism any easier to achieve.
The result of the Iraq War was to destabilize the entire region and, ultimately, produce the context in which the Islamic State would develop. (ISIS is of course solely responsible for its atrocities, as are the Syrian and Iranian regimes for theirs.) All but the most dogmatic interventionists recognize the failure of using military force in Iraq (after overwhelmingly supporting invasion, the American public got there in late 2005). The failure of Iraq (including in the eyes of hawks, the failure of the United States to stay there even after the democratically elected government told us to hit the bricks), helped destabilize Syria. But the Pentagon, every bit as much as nature, abhors a vacuum, and so we ended up in Syria.
About a month ago, The New York Times reported on why the president had yet to visit troops in combat zones. The answer is pretty amazing:
Unlike past Republican presidents, Mr. Trump has seen little value in the long American deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq and other conflicts. He considers them a waste of money and lives, and has told advisers that the people in the countries where troops are stationed are not really friends of the United States.
One reason he has not visited troops in war zones, according to his aides, is that he does not really want American troops there in the first place. To visit, they said, would validate missions he does not truly believe in.
It's worth pointing out that the most recent Democratic president didn't have problems with long-term deployments in misguided, aimless wars (indeed, we can thank Barack Obama for getting us into Syria). Whatever else one might think of Trump, he is absolutely correct that our current hot deployments have accomplished little or nothing, casused untold suffering and wreckage, and are a waste of resources.
I hope Trump actually does follow through and pull out troops. He will certainly face an enormous amount of pushback from within his administration and without (all those #NeverTrump conservatives probably disagree with him on foreign policy more than any other policy topic). And remember how seductive using military power is, especially as president? Back in April 2017, Trump launched a mostly symbolic missile strike and the response from media elites and elected officials was a variation on the nauseating trope of "Today, Donald Trump finally became president."
— New Day (@NewDay) April 7, 2017
Screw that. Trump might start becoming president of the United States the day he starts bringing soldiers home from unconstitutional wars that have no clear connection to national security.
Back in August 2013, when the Obama administration first started talking about invading Syria, Reason offered "3 Reasons Not To Go To War with Syria." Take a look: