We Have Failed Trump’s (Inadvertent) Moral Test

To think that we fell beneath this guy’s morality is truly pathetic | Source

The recent military policy decision by President Trump has inadvertently pulled the American people into a test that they seem to be failing with flying colors. How does the political spectrum, establishment, and outsider presence react to an executive decision to pull troops out of a war zone; one that many consider to be a continued failing of foolish modern American military policy? This is an unexpectedly incredible test that reveals the moral and strategic underpinnings of the United States foreign policy, any congressional representative who has spoken on the issue, and clearly of the media. Because of the impromptu nature of the announcement, it seems that we are seeing just as ad hoc reactions from those who comment on the story. When anyone is under pressure to speak quickly on an issue, with little preparation, it’s less likely that they will have time to prepare some kind of well-crafted political statement. Rather, we are seeing the true colors of the United States political establishment on a depressingly proud display for everyone to witness.

What has been the reaction?

So far, the majority of establishment reactions are predictably hawkish; resorting to insulting Trump as a fool who knows nothing of foreign policy and has foolishly stumbled into what may as well be a global catastrophe. What’s new? Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have been quick to condemn the decision as a reckless and harmful foreign policy move. The dual-party nature of the response is really quite unique in that both sides of the United States political spectrum rarely agree on any issues at all.

A hawkish response from Republican lawmakers is to be expected. Long has the Republican party been the party of “realists”: choosing to engage in wars that Democrats are too liberal, and tree-hugging to engage in; wars of necessity on which only the rugged would dare embark. A condemnation of a move towards non-intervention in a war zone is all too familiar and anticipated from the (truly radical) right.

…the trend is consistent across reporting from CNN, MSNBC, and others.

Deeper intrigue is instead presented from the standpoint of the establishment left, who — contrary to their campaign platforms of non-intervention — have taken the exact same hawkish line of condemnation. For anyone who associates with typical politics of the liberal left, this stance would seem completely contradictory to preconceived views. From the New York Times,

“The House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, suggested that the president had acted out of “personal or political objectives” rather than national security interests.”

What national security interests are Pelosi referring to in this statement? If a country with a population of roughly 20 million people before the war, and just over 17 million in 2018 is a serious threat to our national security, then I must have a completely backward definition of the term “national security”. Either that, or the pair of words has all but lost all of their meaning in a completely Orwellian twist.

Even the Washington Post, which is regarded as a more liberal publication, seems to be able to go no farther than a critique of Trump’s decision on grounds that it is repeating Obama’s premature withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Jasmine El-Gamal, who served as Middle East adviser for the Pentagon from 2010 to 2013, wrote,

“A president who prides himself on doing the opposite of whatever President Barack Obama did, Trump has just repeated his predecessor’s mistakes in the region — and the consequences this time around will be worse… Trump is ignoring the lessons of Obama’s hasty withdrawal from Iraq”.

These examples are hardly an exhaustive list of all of the Democratic reactions to the move, but the trend is consistent across reporting from CNN, MSNBC, and others.

There are some valid critiques of the move

Before we go any further, it’s useful to anticipate a few critiques that come in the form of policy points spewed by the Washington establishment. To name a few: announcing foreign policy moves over Twitter is ridiculous, part of the rebuke is concerned with President Trump’s claim that ISIS was defeated, and that the move was taken unilaterally without any consideration for United States allies.

The first and second points can be accepted at face value. Tweeting out foreign policy is, of course, a ludicrous path to walk. Similarly, claiming that ISIS has been defeated is patently false. These points are important pieces of the establishment and broader coalition’s messaging and they are quite true. However, the third point should come under some scrutiny for its oversimplification and hyperbole. Statements from coalition countries’ spokespeople have really said nothing of the United States “abandoning them” in such a dramatic way. This is a pretty desperate spin given that most of the comments cited were more concerned with rebuking the claim that ISIS had been defeated than anything else.

There’s something more to the notion that the United States is abandoning the fight against ISIS by pulling out ground troops from the region, but we can get to that a bit further down the road in more detail. Suffice to say, there’s really no truth in the cries of deescalation presented in establishment reactions. That notion reveals quite a bit about the ongoing conflict.

The left’s response is very surprising

However, before we dive into the anticipated changes (albeit, only very small changes) that will likely take place after this troop withdrawal, we should reflect on this rare bipartisan agreement that we touched on. The political landscape of the United States, for at least the past eleven years, has been nothing short of bitterly polarized turmoil. The left and right can’t seem to agree on even the simplest of matters. Each villainizes the other to such a degree that many group the entire opposing party into a basket of craven, deplorable miscreants who clearly must be insane to believe what they believe. How, then, does it happen that both the U.S. left and right seem to ostensibly agree on military policy in this case?

Anti-war voters can be categorized as effectively disenfranchised.

This kind of agreement may seem like a rarity, but for the sake of deep inspection, let’s take a retrospective look at conflicts past to see if the same type of alignment has ever occurred before. A recent example can be the war in Iraq after 9/11. If we dig into the reporting back then, and remember what the sentiment was, it’s clear that both the establishment left and the right were clearly supportive of the invasion. Well, maybe that’s an anomaly because there was a moral righteousness aspect to the conflict in being a response to a first-strike.

Let’s take a look at Vietnam instead — an essentially unprovoked conflict. This is sometimes forgotten in the post-Vietnam era, but there was really quite a lot of support for the war effort from both the elite left and right. Left-leaning leaders were hugely responsible for bolstering the supposed moral incorruptibility of the move. President Kennedy (a Democrat, and frequently regarded as a very liberal president) himself in 1963 was quoted in saying,

“In the final analysis, it is their war…. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it, the people of Vietnam, against the Communists… But I don’t agree with those who say we should withdraw.”

The story of a people’s struggle against communist threats from North Vietnam was woven throughout literature and public statements.

There seems to be a common ingredient to U.S. military policy that is historically repeatable: left and right support of military intervention in foreign countries, to “help the people will their freedom”, that becomes a long, drawn out conflict that history ends up regarding as a foolish mistake. If both the U.S. left and right supports, and has supported, military interventions at the time of their happening, while simultaneously campaigning with empty words of learned lessons from past conflicts, then it seems that citizens have no choice of any anti-intervention party when it comes time to exercise their opinions through the vote. Anti-war voters can be categorized as effectively disenfranchised.

This makes a few things obvious

Could it really be true that in terms of foreign military policy, the United States is more like a one-party country than the democratic, two-party state that is always presented to us? This seems to be the case. If the best arguments that the left can come up with are, “Trump is repeating an Obama-esque hasty withdrawal”, “our allies will be left out to dry”, or “Trump is fulfilling his selfish desires in spite of foreign policy advice”, then this is truly a sad range of arguments.

There is absolutely no consideration at all that the decision to begin an invasion of Syria was a mistake. The U.S. population will likely have to wait another handful of years before any popular discussion of the ineffectiveness of yet another Middle Eastern invasion crops up. The irony of the future “lessons learned” from Syria should taste bitter indeed. The liberal left’s range of moral arguments is so narrow that voters should be outraged that no Democrat is willing to expand their view of foreign policy any wider than consistent military interventionism.

Any representative of the United States who claims to have any sort of moral high ground should be ashamed in the face of this response. The echoes of Iraq, Vietnam, Latin America, and so many more interventionist conflicts should be ringing at an eardrum-rupturing volume at this point in history.

Some intellectuals have been repeating warnings of folly. Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, spoke on Democracy Now, saying that,

“Terrorism is a phenomenon that emerges out of social and economic and national and all kinds of crises, in all kinds of countries. And stopping it doesn’t mean playing whack-a-mole with your military…”

A sober viewpoint being drowned out by the blind mainstream machine. She continues to point out the inconsistencies within various administrations’ policy-makers,

“We’re there to go after ISIS… except that the Pentagon says we’re there to protect our allies — in this case, it’s the Kurds… John Bolton, the national security adviser, says we’re in Syria to make sure that Iran doesn’t build up its presence there. And the State Department says that we have to stay there because ISIS is still there.”

This kind of rambling, incoherent narrative should be a huge wake-up call to any U.S. citizen who believes that we have a military presence in Syria for a good reason. Even if you adopt a viewpoint that marries all three distinct reasons together, the resulting belief is rank with the stench of overwhelming U.S. paternalism — and a unilateral one at that.

The conflict is not even being deescalated

All of this being said, President Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria is not even close to any sort of deescalation of military presence in the region. Anyone who has been keeping up with the preferred method of intervention in Syria knows that the bulk of the “help” is carried out by airstrikes. And some help it is, because in Iraq and Syria, since the beginning of conflicts in the regions, Airwars estimates that between 7,000 and 11,000 civilian casualties have occurred at the hands of US-led coalition bombings. Statista’s tracking of monthly airstrikes in Iraq and Syria shows that the number has only been increasing throughout 2017 and 2018, so there should be no reason to believe the number won’t keep ratcheting up.

Removing ground troops from Syria may be a welcome sigh of relief amidst an otherwise fraught United States-Middle East policy, but it is hardly more than a representative gesture. Our allies should know full well that U.S. involvement in the war against ISIS will continue — perhaps even increase. Foreign diplomatic comments about Trump’s move to withdraw make much more sense given the reality that the U.S. is continuing its main engine of attack in the region. Our allies are not disappointed. We are not making the Obama-era “mistake” of withdrawing too hastily. Democrats would likely love to point out this deception that Trump is selling to the population, but they can’t even do so because that would necessarily reveal the horrible destruction that has occurred, and will continue to occur, in Syria. Instead, they adopt the classic dovish arguments of decades past. The United States coalition will continue ravaging Syria to the point of utter destruction — as if that already hasn’t been reached — and then nostalgically look back at the mistakes that we can all draw wisdom from for the upcoming election cycle.

This should be a wake-up call for U.S. citizens

There may be the slightest silver lining to all of this ridiculousness. Perhaps the logical inconsistencies of the Democratic party will become apparent to those who support them, and there will be a call for change. The conflict in Syria rarely gets covered in such a revealing way, so this would be a huge opportunity for the more astute left to change its stance on the issue in the face of such an embarrassing, illogical policy.

With all the changes slowly coming to the Democratic party through the rise of progressive politics, this could be a perfect time for the progressive platform to adopt an honest policy of non-military intervention and rack up yet another sorely needed common sense policy to spur on the stagnant, establishment left to a viewpoint grounded in public attitude and historical reflection. It may be tough to not condemn President Trump over every issue, but even he can occasionally make ostensibly laudable gestures — albeit without non-military social or economic follow-up they are sorely lacking. The key is touting a message consistent enough to even give someone as vile as Trump praise where praise is due. Anything short of that is morally depraved and ripe for rebuke in the face of such inconsistency. Such a radical stance could be a great launching point for a more public discussion of historical U.S. policy of military control that could lead to the development of a general consciousness of the United States empire.

Some journals have been rightly calling the intentions of Trump’s move praiseworthy, but their voice is drowned out by the typical mainstream media bullhorn. It is our responsibility to be morally consistent — especially when it comes to our enemies’ actions — so that the modern flavor of imperialism can be halted, and people across the world can exert their freedom without the paternal, paranoid puppetry of global superpowers.

PhD student in Computer Science and Cognitive Science at Tufts University, organizer with Sunrise Movement and MA Peace Action. Philosophy nerd.

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