One of the most consistent themes of President Trump’s foreign policy is burden sharing—shifting less important defense obligations to local partners and allies—and creating the space for the U.S. to disentangle itself from problems best left for other nations to resolve.
With no security concerns and no direct interests at stake, the best thing the United States can do for the people of Venezuela—and for Americans—is to abandon regime change, help relieve the humanitarian crisis, encourage all parties to resolve their disputes according to their own laws and constitution, and engage in regional diplomacy with other like-minded countries. There is no “quick fix” for Venezuela’s problems. Any use of American military, regardless of how much it may satisfy a yearning to “do something,” will turn a crisis into a tragedy and likely plunge the U.S. into another endless nation-building mistake.
Each of these obstacles—bad advice in Washington, needless and even counterproductive maintenance of stalemate, and strategically reckless mission creep—can and must be overcome if Trump intends to make good on his promises of a new direction for American foreign policy, including an end to the war in Afghanistan. There is no military solution to be had here; it is time to simply come home.
Syria carries unique escalation risks. U.S. forces could be pulled into war with Syrian government forces, Iran, Russia, and even Turkey. Nothing that U.S. forces could accomplish there justifies such risk. The persistence of terrorist outrages is, if anything, evidence of the futility of making war on it. Attempting to manage civil wars with U.S. troops in the name of counterterrorism is a bankrupt idea.
This evacuation gives us an opportunity to recognize that however well-intended, U.S. military intervention in Libya has done more harm than good. Prolonging this forgotten war further will not balance those failures and in fact stands a real chance of exacerbating them. The Trump administration should seize this moment to give Pompeo’s rejection of a military solution some real heft. Let us lead by example and bring U.S. troops home from Libya for good.
Trump’s decision to veto the Yemen bill lost him an easy political win and the chance to execute a significant and necessary shift in U.S. foreign policy with relative ease. But it is not too late to make that change directly from the Oval Office, which is exactly where this misadventure began under the previous administration. The president can end U.S. support for the Saudi coalition any time he wants, ceasing America’s participation in Yemen’s misery.
Perpetually threatening Venezuela, North Korea, or Iran with military intervention to demand they adhere to our preferred policy outcomes—while closing off or severely limiting our diplomatic engagement—will ultimately harm, not help, our national security. If we don’t want Russia meddling in the Western Hemisphere—and we don’t—we need to jettison our permanently militarized foreign policy for one that elevates diplomacy.
A clear-eyed view of the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela demands recognition that the Maduro regime is condemnable—and that there is no wisdom in advocating U.S. intervention, especially when Russia is involved. To give the Venezuelan people their best shot at a more free, peaceful, and prosperous future, Washington’s main job is to leave well enough alone.
Now it’s time for the region’s governments to finally step up and do right by their people. A strategic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria is the only appropriate move, and it also decreases the risk of major conflict. Anything less will only delay the moment when Arab leaders take the initiative to fight the illness that feeds the tumor that is terrorism.
This is the state of Afghanistan in 2019. Civilian casualties are at a record high; U.S. troops remain in harm’s way as our air war dramatically escalates; and the United States’ longest war in history—waged at an enormous cost in blood and treasure both—has failed to achieve for Afghanistan anything resembling a stable peace.
That means an end to counterinsurgency and nation-building operations in the Middle East; shuttering defense infrastructure the Pentagon no longer uses; efficient investments in research and technology to prepare for a return to great power rivalry; and a more restrained foreign policy that relies on all sources of America’s strength rather than just the military.
The most plausible route to ending Yemen’s civil war and, in Pompeo’s words, “ensur[ing] a just peace,” is not to stay the course in supporting the Saudi coalition, as the secretary of state recommends. It is to end Washington’s backing for a catastrophic intervention which was never ours to fight. Continuing to help the Saudi war effort is a fool’s errand with cruel consequences for Yemeni civilians and no benefits for the United States.
Despite much pushing and prodding from Washington, NATO remains an organization treading water on the backs of the American taxpayer. As the recently published annual NATO report shows, only seven of NATO’s 29 members meet the alliance’s 2 percent of GDP benchmark. Sixteen countries have no plan (and are on no trajectory) to meet their spending obligations, a development that exhibits complete disregard for Article 3 of the NATO charter and disrespects the entire concept of shared responsibilities under an alliance. Indeed, despite having the financial resources to invest and prepare their own militaries for the emerging period of great power conflict, the vast majority of Europe remains far more comfortable outsourcing security responsibilities to Washington.
That is a mistake, and this redoubled commitment to endless war should be immediately reversed. U.S. military intervention in Somalia is exacerbating political instability without contributing to the security of the American or Somali people. This is not our fight, and we should stop fighting it.
Like all countries, the United States lives in a world with finite resources. We are still the wealthiest, most secure country on the planet. Rather than compounding our fiscal challenges by papering over them with even more borrowing and spending, the federal government should rethink U.S. grand strategy. We should abandon peripheral missions and focus on strengthening our nation and our military.
America had an enduring interest in ensuring that the Continent not fall under the domination of a single, capable, hostile power: That could pose a serious threat to America. The Truman administration was clear on this point: The main purpose of stationing American military forces in Europe in the early 1950s was to stay long enough to right the balance of power, not to stay forever.
If President Trump was serious about transitioning the U.S. out of endless wars, he would end the war in Afghanistan and pull out all U.S. forces. The United States can protect our people, defend the homeland, and snuff out transnational terrorists without stationing American soldiers in Afghanistan forever. Anything less is more of the same and will only prolong an extravagantly expensive and utterly discredited strategy.
So little has changed in eight years that Paul and Udall this week introduced legislation which nearly could be copied verbatim from their 2011 push for withdrawal because it’s up against the same stale commitment to permanent intervention. The 2019 American Forces Going Home After Noble (AFGHAN) Service Act has updated numbers—higher counts of U.S. troops killed or wounded in Afghanistan, and a larger tally of borrowed tax dollars spent and often wasted—but its core demand of a quick and responsible exit from the longest war in U.S. history is unaltered.