Foreign Policy

WTF: Lindsey Graham Says Trump Is Repeating Mistakes of an 'Obama-Libertarian Foreign Policy'

Graham criticism of Trump's Syria policy says a lot more about the senator's appetite for endless war than the failures of an imagined non-interventionist foreign policy.


After President Donald Trump announced that he'd withdraw U.S. military personnel from northern Syria in anticipation of a Turkish incursion, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) warned that the White House is emulating the dangerous "Obama-libertarian foreign policy.".

"The Obama-libertarian foreign policy does not make America safe," Graham tweeted today. "No matter what President Trump is saying about his decision," he added, "it is EXACTLY what President Obama did in Iraq with even more disastrous consequences for our national security."

The New York Times reports that the U.S. will be pulling back about 150 military personnel from northern Syria, but not out of the country entirely. (The State Department has claimed the number being withdrawn is substantially lower—fewer than 26.) Trump's move has been interpreted in many quarters as a decision to abandon America's Kurdish allies to the Turkish government, which considers them terrorists. As Elizabeth Nolan Brown noted this morning, even non-interventionist foreign policy experts have criticized Trump for his move, saying he has blindsided American allies without substantially reducing U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict.

That's quite different from Graham's criticism, which treats Trump's relocation of a handful of troops as tantamount to a full-blown U.S. withdrawal from the region. Worse still is the claim that President Barak Obama's foreign policy was libertarian. In fact, Obama upped the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 30,000 to 100,000 in the first years of his administration. He also launched a NATO air war in Libya despite having no congressional authority to do so. And he was an ardent drone warrior. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, he launched 10 times as many drone strikes as his predecessor. A few of those targeted U.S. citizens.

The Obama administration also provided weapons and logistical support to Saudi Arabia's war effort in Yemen, helping to contribute to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. And while he campaigned against the Iraq war, Obama was slow to wind down our presence in that country too. Most U.S. troops did not leave the country until 2011. When ISIS first started capturing cities in Iraq, Obama redeployed troops to the county to fight the terror group.

It is that temporary withdrawal from Iraq that Graham sees as central to Obama's foreign policy, not the numerous other interventions that the 44th president signed off on. Unsurprising, Graham blames the current chaos in the Middle East on that decision, ignoring the destabilizing effects of U.S. intervention in the region.

The continued violence in Afghanistan should show that decades of U.S. military intervention is no recipe for peace or stability. An genuinely libertarian foreign policy would recognize this, and would take much greater steps to end American involvement in foreign wars.