Trump Denounces 'Endless War,' Teases Aggressive Stance on Venezuela in SOTU Address

The president's speech was a mixed bag on foreign policy.


Sipa USA/Newscom

President Donald Trump doubled down on his recent orders for withdrawing U.S. military personnel from our long-running interventions in Afghanistan and Syria during his State of the Union address Tuesday. In the same speech, he also teased the possibility of new foreign intervention in South America.

"Great nations do not fight endless wars," said Trump. "Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home."

In December, Trump ordered the sudden withdrawal of 4,000 U.S. troops currently fighting ISIS in Syria. The president later declared that he would also be pulling some 7,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, where his administration is involved in peace talks with the Taliban—something that also got a shoutout in tonight's speech.

"In Afghanistan, my administration is holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban. As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism," read a trasncript of Trump's remarks.

The president's troop withdrawals were met with shock and resistance from Democrats and Republicans alike, including reportedly even members of his own administration.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a non-binding resolution condemning Trump's plans to withdraw troops from those two conflicts, and slapped new sanctions on the Syrian government. Earlier in the month, the president's own national security advisor, John Bolton, said in a speech that any withdrawal would be conditioned on the total defeat of ISIS and assurances from Turkey that it would not attack U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in Syria—tall orders, to put it lightly.

But even as Trump has talked about winding down our involvement in the Middle East, members of his administration have teased an escalation in Venezuela. After that country's opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, declared himself president (reportedly at the urging of Vice President Mike Pence), the Trump administration quickly recognized him as the legitimate head of state, withdrawing its recognition of the embattled, increasingly authoritarian regime of Nicolas Maduro.

Trump reiterated this hardline stance against Maduro in Tuesday night's address.

"We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom—and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair," said Trump.

He also undercut whatever transpartisan appeal his nods to a less aggressive foreign policy might have by equating support for a non-interventionist foreign policy with a need to end the ongoing investigation of Robert Muller.

"We have to be united at home to defeat our adversaries abroad," said Trump, adding that "if there is going to be peace and legislation there can't be war and investigation."

That is hardly a way to secure Democratic support for a more humble U.S. foreign policy.