Finally, President Trump is doing what he was elected to do, namely ending our involvement in wars halfway around the world in which we have no interests at stake. President Trump was elected as a peace president. He promised to bring the boys home. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, was neo-lib/neo-con interventionist. He won, she lost.
Mr. Trump won not because he is a liberal peacenik who appealed to the Left. His constituency was and remains the Heartland Americans whose sons do the fighting and dying in these wars. They do not understand why we are involved in the conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq and Syria, and neither do I. They know why we went to Afghanistan after 9/11, but not why we are still fighting there seventeen years later. Again, neither do I, although I understand that military incompetence at the senior levels has something to do with it. The Washington Establishment has careers and budgets at stake, so of course it wants wars to continue. That’s not much of an argument in the rest of the country.
The President’s decisions to get out of Syria and Afghanistan are not only wise but necessary. In Syria, if we stay much longer, we will have to choose sides between the Kurds and the Turks. Turkey is going to go after the Syrian Kurds militarily, whether we like it or not. If we side with the Kurds we will find ourselves in the inconvenient situation of going to war with a member of NATO. We will also lose, simply because of geography: the conflict would be on Turkey’s border with Syria, where our logistics lines can only support a small American force. If we side with the Turks or try to remain neutral, we would lose our only local ally who can actually fight. At that point our forces in Syria would be surrounded by lots of enemies with no one to help. As President Trump would say, “Not good.” So we need to get out, now.
In Afghanistan, our position is deteriorating at an ever more rapid clip. President Trump is trying to negotiate with the Taliban for the only possible outcome that is not a catastrophe, an orderly and safe exit of our forces. The alternative is a sauve qui peut rout where our losses could be serious. Just ask the Brits.
The Establishment is running in circles, screaming and shouting. It’s fun to watch. Their latest cause for panic is Secretary Jim Mattis’s resignation. Frankly, there is little reason to regret his departure.
I know General Mattis only slightly. We had one meeting when he commanded the “Marine Corps University” at Quantico. (As Universities go, it has more in common with McDonald’s Hamburger U than with Harvard.) No actions resulted from that meeting.
Mattis is unquestionably well-read, and I had great hopes for him as SecDef. But he proved to be no better than his less well-read predecessors. He did nothing to reform either the services or the Pentagon itself. He promoted the strategic idiocy of turning away from preparing for Fourth Generation wars, the wars of the future, and instead making Russia and China our enemies of choice. Does he not know that both are nuclear powers? Is he unaware of why both the U.S. and the Soviet Union avoided direct engagements with each other’s forces throughout the Cold War, namely that whichever side were losing would feel immense pressure to go nuclear? The Pentagon likes such a “strategy” because “peer competitors” justify vast budgets and programs, but the Secretary of Defense is supposed to represent the real world. Mattis failed to do so.
Secretary Mattis began one initiative that deserves to continue after his departure. Called the “Close Combat Lethality Task Force” (CCLTF), its purpose is to provide more resources and better training for the men who do most of the dying, the infantry. They get a pittance of the resources devoted to, for example, tac air. The CCLTF aims to change that, and it would be a pity if it died because its sponsor was gone. The current concept for the CCLTF has some weakness, which I will address in a future column. But the need for it is real.
So hurrah for the president! He is ending stupid wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, trying to mend fences with North Korea and wants a good relationship with Russia. All those initiatives are very much in America’s interest. Could that be why the Washington Establishment hates him so bitterly?
Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.