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Presidents Are Reckless With Soldiers’ Lives

The controversy over Trump’s condolence call should be a debate about promiscuous military intervention.

The widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger on October 4, says she was "very angry" when Donald Trump told her during a condolence call last week that her husband "knew what he signed up for." The president's critics say that remark was insensitive, but the more important point is that it was not true.

How can any member of the armed forces know what he is signing up for when presidents of both parties deploy the military so promiscuously, usually for reasons that have little or nothing to do with defending the country? The problem is not that Trump is tactless about soldiers' deaths but that he and his predecessors have been reckless with their lives.

"I didn't know there was 1,000 troops in Niger," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, confessed on Sunday. With U.S. special forces operating in so many countries—138 last year—it can be hard to keep track.

Last week Defense Secretary Jim Mattis explained that the U.S. troops in Niger are "supporting the French-led and the African troops, in the campaign to throw ISIS and the terrorists, the radicals, those who foment instability and murder and mayhem, off their stride." He did not mention that a previous U.S. intervention, against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, had contributed to the instability by sowing chaos in a neighboring country and sending arms and extremists across the border.

Is the mission that killed La David Johnson and three of his comrades, which began nearly five years ago, making Americans safer? Is anyone in the Trump administration or Congress even asking that question?

By now the cost of military inertia should be painfully clear to anyone who is paying attention. The war in Afghanistan, which unlike the operation in Niger was initially a response to an attack on the United States, has dragged on for 16 years now, claiming the lives of more than 2,400 American military personnel.

Luke Coffey, director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation, notes that the two main goals of that war—denying Al Qaeda a safe haven and punishing the Taliban regime for harboring terrorists—were accomplished "by the summer of 2002." Yet Coffey predicts that the United States will have a military presence in Afghanistan for "at least" another 16 years, which he argues is justified by the need to shore up the country's rickety government.

More than 4,500 American service members have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, which was based on a purported threat from weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. As the RAND Corporation's Brian Michael Jenkins noted several years ago, "the costly removal of a brutal tyrant who threatened his own citizens and neighboring countries won no applause, earned no gratitude, established no reliable ally, and produced no lasting strategic benefit."

These death tolls do not include the thousands of Afghans and Iraqis killed in those wars, the 50,000 or so Americans who were wounded, or the cost to U.S. taxpayers, which may ultimately total as much as $6 trillion. These burdens are all the more appalling in light of the fact that the Iraq war from its inception and something like 97 percent of the war in Afghanistan had nothing to do with national defense.

Before he was elected president, Trump decried the senselessness of these wars. "We should have never been in Iraq," he said, while he described the war in Afghanistan as "a total and complete disaster" that "wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure."

Now that he lives in the White House, Trump is committed to continuing both of those disastrous mistakes. As commander in chief of troops that were active in more than 70 percent of the world's countries last year, he will have many opportunities to make new ones.

© Copyright 2017 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • BestUsedCarSales||

    How can any member of the armed forces know what he is signing up for when presidents of both parties deploy the military so promiscuously, usually for reasons that have little or nothing to do with defending the country?

    We've been like that for awhile now. Joining the military means knowing that you could fight and you could die.

    "I didn't know there was 1,000 troops in Niger," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, confessed on Sunday.

    When you support every military action that comes in front of you, of course you're going to end up missing a few. No worries Graham, it doesn't make you any more of an abhorrent monster than you already are.

  • DajjaI||

    Yes it's expensive. But they are bringing freedom to Africa so that we don't need to have it here.

    Jill Stein approves this message.

  • Jerryskids||

    First you complain that Trump's a loose cannon unfit for office and now that he's growing into office you're still complaining. Look, do you want him to mouth platitudes while continuing the disastrous policies of his predecessors or not? How much more presidential can he be?

  • BigFun||

    I knew Trump wouldn't be able to stop the wars if he was elected. There's just too much money and political pressure from the massive defense industry.

    I have worked for a fortune 300 defense company for 23yrs and have seen the influence of their PAC.

    The wars and interventions will never end, gotta keep that money flowing.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Money is a lazy reason to explain what is going on. It plays a role but there are a million other things going on in the world besides money that explain why events happen. There are plenty of geopolitical circumstances that could potentially lead a decision maker to propose a small scale intervention in a place like Niger, let alone Yemen or Syria, that have nothing to do with money. Many of these reasons are indeed legitimate reasons too and have sound reasoning which is why the COCOMs pursue them. Where our system is breaking down is that Congress has totally relinquished any kind of oversight over these matters to the point if a COCOM wants something then they get it and they do it.

    Military people should not be making policy but they are nowadays because Congress has delegated it down to them by providing virtually no oversight over their activities.

  • Stephen54321||

    JoeBlow123: "Where our system is breaking down is that Congress has totally relinquished any kind of oversight over these matters to the point if a COCOM wants something then they get it and they do it."

    To be sure, but at least part of the reason congressmen HAVE done so is the money paid into their re-election coffers by companies in the military-industrial complex. Those payments are essentially legal bribes.

    JoeBlow123: "There are plenty of geopolitical circumstances that could potentially lead a decision maker to propose a small scale intervention in a place like Niger, let alone Yemen or Syria, that have nothing to do with money."

    That statement kind of misses the entire point. The issue is not why did America go in in the first place. It is why is America STILL there X years later, long after the original rationale is over and done with and the enemy vanquished. Either the original mission was incompletely or incompetently executed or there is some other agenda at work which keeps America there.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The neo-cons have doubled down on the strategy to take the fight to the "enemy" outside the USA [period]

    Its not the worst strategy on paper but any long term thought would clearly expose the huge flaws with this strategy. One being that you make more future enemies than you kill. Every house you blow up and person you kill creates new "enemies" of America.

    This is proven because now there are thousands more terrorist fighters that hate the USA than in 1989. We supported Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan and he did not hate us then. Al Qaeda grew after the USA intervened in Kuwait.

    After the USA toppled Saddam and Gaddafi, ISIS filled the void and grew in number.

    The USA just keeps making the same mistakes over and over.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Trump is not expanding the wars, which is something.

    I have been putting pressure on my Senators and Congressman to cut budgets including defense, so hopefully less money will force generals to stop resisting bringing more troops back to the USA.

  • SKR||

    Trump has expanded the Afghanistan War as well as the US role in countries like Somalia and Yemen.

  • Mike McD||

    Wherever you're getting your news and information, I'd recommend searching out at least one other source, as Trump definitely has no problem dumping more money into the Pentagon and rattling sabers to such a degree that even the mainstream media is looking into the possibility of a nuclear strike against the West Coast of the USA.

    Additionally, if the Pentagon's budget is cut, which isn't going to happen anytime soon as even though Trump wanted unwarranted increased defense funding, Congress had to one-up him by giving them even more money than he recommended, they wouldn't actually cut down on money for weapons programs. They'd slash veterans benefits and supports for the troops themselves. That's how modern day crony capitalism works, it's who you know. (The increase, incidentally, was enough to fund Sanders's pie-in-the-sky "free college for all," which was derided as a pipe dream which would blow a hole in the economy. But I guess it's cool to dump that same amount of money into death and destruction and destabilization rather than education.)

  • Teddy Pump||

    They killed JFK because he did not want to get involved in Vietnam & Trump knows that!!!.....I love Ron & Rand Paul, but, if they ever got elected & tried to do half of what they proposed, they would be dead within 6 months!!!!

  • gaoxiaen||

    That's why I didn't reenlist. Reagan started the drug-testing bullshit, nobody cares about you except for your family, and you might end up in some shithole like Somalia.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Like I did.

  • Stephen54321||

    Yet Coffey predicts that the United States will have a military presence in Afghanistan for "at least" another 16 years...

    At least! When you read Coffey's article he goes on to say:

    We also have to realize that patience is required. Success in Afghanistan will be measured in years and decades, not twenty-four-hour news cycles and 140-character-long tweets.

    "Decades"?

    By that yardstick America will still have troops battling the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2117, at which point the Coffeys of that age will doubtless be reassuring people: patience! Just a few years more and victory will be ours!

  • Hank Phillips||

    This is what happens when superstitious mystics control government in These States and places like Afghanistan. "We" send out men with guns and orders to kill because mohammedans don't love Jesus. Mohammedans will try to kill "us" in return because "we" don't obey Mohammed. To mystics and their remoras, those policies make perfect sense.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Before he was elected president, Trump decried the senselessness of these wars. "We should have never been in Iraq," he said, while he described the war in Afghanistan as "a total and complete disaster" that "wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure."

    Now that he lives in the White House, Trump is committed to continuing both of those disastrous mistakes. As commander in chief of troops that were active in more than 70 percent of the world's countries last year, he will have many opportunities to make new ones.
    Jacob, come on. You know that Trump saying that the USA should never have been in Iraq is describing the initial invasion and his feeling that was a mistake.

    Now that our troops are there, you can immediately pull those troops out or pull those troops out at some later date for a myriad of reasons. You are trying to imply that Trump is going against his position that the invasion was a disastrous mistake.

    Trump has not immediately pulled those troops out but has not added more expect in Afghanistan. This would imply that Trump is not giving in to military generals who want more troops to "win". Hopefully Trump has an alternate plan to pull those troops out soon and safely for them.

  • Mike McD||

    Well then, who cares if he initially supported any invasions, if he's going to continue to support them just because we're there already?

    And for your last paragraph - Trump has, quite publicly, turned the wars over to the generals. This would seem to refute your assertion that he isn't giving in to the generals. I guess he'd rather publicly squabble with the NFL and tweet out personal attacks with lots of exclamation points than actually do any real work.

    "Hopefully Trump has an alternate plan to pull those troops out soon and safely for them." Jesus Christ, are you kidding me? Keeping chugging the kool-aid, my friend.

  • steve sturm||

    "How can any member of the armed forces know what he is signing up for when presidents of both parties deploy the military so promiscuously, usually for reasons that have little or nothing to do with defending the country?"

    Isn't that what they're signing up for, to be deployed "promiscuously, usually for reasons that have little or nothing to do with defending the country?".

    (I'm not arguing for deploying troops promiscuously, just pointing out that it's not as if the rules are being changed mid-game).

  • Azathoth!!||

    Before he was elected president, Trump decried the senselessness of these wars. "We should have never been in Iraq," he said, while he described the war in Afghanistan as "a total and complete disaster" that "wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure."

    Now that he lives in the White House, Trump is committed to continuing both of those disastrous mistakes. As commander in chief of troops that were active in more than 70 percent of the world's countries last year, he will have many opportunities to make new ones

    You know, this seems to happen to every president--no matter how peacy they run. They get into the White House and it all goes out the window.

    Why? Megalomania? Power corrupting?

    Or could it be that, until they became president, they didn't have access to the whole picture?

  • Mike McD||

    As a lefty, I fell for Obama's brilliant marketing in 2008. I was immediately disheartened when he stocked the house with the same Wall Street neo-libs and expanded the wars, both drone and conventional. Guantanamo is still open and we're killing more innocent people than ever. I hope he has that Nobel Peace Prize in a box in the cellar as if I were him, I'd suffer acid reflux every time I laid eyes on it.

    Unfortunately, there are still many out there on the Right who believe that Trump is going to somehow pull us out of these wars, just like the misinformed Left back then, even though he's crashed and burned much more visibly than Obama.

  • Ken Hagler||

    "How can any member of the armed forces know what he is signing up for when presidents of both parties deploy the military so promiscuously, usually for reasons that have little or nothing to do with defending the country?"

    By _not_ having spent their entire life prior to enlistment in an empty locked room having no contact at all with the outside world.

  • wingnutx||

    We know what we sign up for.

  • wingnutx||

    SF was deployed with some fanfare by Obama in 2013 to #BringBackOurGirls.

    It was hardly a secret.

  • Peter Paul||

    illegal bullshit, bring the troops home and stop fighting proxy wars for israel.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Presidents Are Reckless With Soldiers' Lives

    Most military interventions usually are catastrophic to soldier's lives.
    One would think our presidents would have learned that by now.

  • Hank Phillips||

    The way Congress sees it, there's plenty more expendable soldier boys where those four came from. As long as U.S. voters keep endorsing the initiation of force to stir up more jihadists on the other side of the planet, all is well. But if, say, 4 million voters were to suddenly hand their ballots to a party that wants The Political State to "avoid entangling alliances and abandon its attempts to act as policeman for the world," that would change everything. If such a party were to gain additional votes, those soldiers' might turn out to be worth more to Congressmen alive than dead.

  • rta||

    During Trump's interview with Howard Stern he said "I guess so" when asked if we should invade Iraq. He also said we should have done it right the first time. So he was for BOTH invasions at some point. He's like John Kerry and his "I was for the Iraq war before I was against it" idiocy. I wish people would stop thinking Trump was ever a non interventionist. And please don't tell me he's the lesser of two evils with regards to Clinton. Evil is evil.

  • rageon||

    "How can any member of the armed forces know what he is signing up for when presidents of both parties deploy the military so promiscuously, usually for reasons that have little or nothing to do with defending the country?" How can any American not know that presidents of both parties use the military promiscuously for reasons that have nothing to do with national security?

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