When it comes to bringing the troops home, count me as a Trumper. Ever since the president announced his intention last week to call back the roughly 2,000 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen stationed in Syria, the powerful defense establishment has been working hard to reverse this “outrageous decision.”
However characteristically awkward the announcement itself may have been, I most fervently hope the president has the internal fortitude to carry out what I consider to be a prudent decision.
I have been on this Earth now for three-quarters of a century, and with the exception of a few peaceful interludes, America has constantly been at war. I was born during World War II, which ended in 1945; five years later we were fighting in Korea; less than a decade later came Vietnam, which lasted until 1975, the Persian Gulf war in 1991; finally, the Middle East wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which began almost two decades ago in 2002.
To support these wars, there has grown an immense defense establishment which includes America’s best manufacturers, companies like Raytheon, Boeing and United Technologies, who build the world’s best weapons under profitable Pentagon contracts. They supply a volunteer military that has an annual budget which this year is a cool $600 billion, more than the combined spending of the next seven nations, including Russia and China.
Justifying this defense system is a foreign policy that since the fall of the Soviet Union has resembled that of an empire. We refer to America as the “indispensable nation,” which implies that we have an obligation to intervene and support every just cause across the globe.
Today, our troops are stationed from Korea to Somalia. We fight wars of choice. Some of those, like in the Balkans, reach a virtuous ending. Others, like Vietnam, not so much. How many times have we heard our leaders tell us we cannot become the world’s policeman, only to pursue that course again and again?
The cost of these wars is incalculable. World War II and Korea were wars of necessity, so we write those off as the cost of freedom. But just imagine what we spent in human life and dollars in Vietnam and in the Middle East playing out a policy based on a lie. No, there were no weapons of mass destruction nor did the target, Saddam Hussein, have anything to do with 9/11.
Instead of admitting our mistake — and leaving — we decided to rebuild the buildings that our bombs flattened. Perhaps it was the guilt we felt for acting on phony intelligence inspired by Vice President Cheney and his power-seeking mentor, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Once the shooting has started, the hardest act of leadership is to stop it. How many times have we heard presidents promise that our troops will execute a short mission and promptly leave the scene of the fighting? It never happens.
Who would have guessed that our sons and daughters would be fighting in the Middle East for two decades now? We are almost there! The think tanks find new justifications; the manufacturers produce ever more deadly weapons; the military use those weapons with consummate skill. And since the death of the draft, the lives of many fewer Americans are adversely impacted.
This may seem like war done the easy way, but there is a cost to everything. Imagine what else these war trillions might have bought. A society with better wages, a place where scientific breakthroughs would have saved thousands of lives lost to AIDS, cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and so much more.
Think of great cities with iconic airports, state-of-the-art highways, and safe bridges. We must always maintain a strong defense, but maybe we can turn these brilliant defense industries, at least in part, to centers of innovation for the homeland.
This is why President Trump has a chance to do something great, to signal an end to the priorities that result in constant war and turn that unmatched pool of scientific and engineering talent toward the work to be done at home.
I candidly agree with him on very little, but in taking the first tentative step toward ending the war economy, he has my full-throated support.