Kicking Allies


President Trump’s behavior is unprecedented, but his decision to withdraw our troops from Syria, while unprecedentedly abrupt, is actually part of a tradition of unforced errors in American foreign policy.

Out of spite, or sometimes as a smokescreen to evade responsibility, Congress and past presidents have managed to lose wars that could have gone the other way. Seeking to make partisan points, we have cost ourselves dearly.

In June of 1973, with Richard Nixon wounded by Watergate, the Democratic-dominated Congress passed the Case-Church amendment, which forbade any further military action in Southeast Asia. We had withdrawn most of our troops the previous March. South Vietnam was attempting to fight the Vietcong and North Vietnam (both backed by the Soviet Union and China) by itself. Congress liked to tell itself that this was “Nixon’s war,” conveniently airbrushing out John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, not to mention that the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which passed the House with a vote of 416-0, and the Senate by 88-2. For 10 years, Congress had authorized the war through funding.

By 1973, however, most Democrats were endorsing a revisionist history that suggested that they had no role in the decision to fight; that it was forced on the nation by presidents. They passed the War Powers Resolution, and cut funds for our ally, South Vietnam.

Could South Vietnam have withstood the onslaught with only American money and equipment? It’s impossible to say. What is clear is that a combination of pique and score-settling caused Democrats to guarantee defeat. As Sen. Edward Kennedy explained, aid would “perpetuate involvement that should have ended long ago.”

President Barack Obama opposed the Iraq War. Fine. But when he took office in 2009, Iraq was largely pacified. Al Qaeda in Iraq had been defeated. ISIS did not exist. Iran was not pulling the strings in Baghdad, and no Americans were dying.

Obama could have said to the American people: “I opposed this war. I thought it was a mistake. But this is not 2003. More than 4,000 Americans have given their lives, and taxpayers have spent $757 billion to ensure a better future for this country and this region and to prevent the incubation of more terrorists to threaten us at home. A too hasty withdrawal could jeopardize what has been achieved. Accordingly, I plan to leave a residual force of 20,000 troops (fewer than we deploy to South Korea), to stabilize the situation.”

But Obama had a point to make. Instead of remaining to midwife a secure Iraq, he beat a retreat. Whatever you think of the decision to invade, at that moment in 2011, there was still a good possibility of stability. As Vali Nasr, a former State Department explained to The Atlantic: the “fragile power-sharing arrangement … required close American management. But the Obama administration had no time or energy for that. Instead, it anxiously eyed the exits, with its one thought to get out. It stopped protecting the political process just when talk of American withdrawal turned the heat back up under the long-simmering power struggle that pitted the Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds against one another.”

And so, we turned our backs on the Sunni tribes who had helped defeat Al Qaeda, as well as the moderate Shiites who sought to resist Iranian domination. The aftermath is well known: the rise of ISIS, the torment of the Yazidis and Iraqi Christians, the victory of Iran in controlling its neighbor, and the ongoing agony of Syria. At least Obama achieved one end – nearly everyone now says Iraq was a disaster. It needn’t have been.

Against the advice of everyone save Vladimir Putin, Bashar Assad, and Recep Erdogan, President Trump decided to pull all 2000 American troops from Syria. This is a gift to our enemies and a betrayal of our friends — especially the Kurds who fought ISIS when no one else would, and the Israelis, who will now have Iran more firmly on their doorstep. This is as foolish and short-sighted as Obama’s Iraq withdrawal, but with Trumpian flourishes, such as the claim that we have “defeated” ISIS (30,000 fighters remain) and that “Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work.” [sic] No, the greatest enemy ISIS faced were the Kurds, thousands of whom died fighting ISIS, and who currently hold 2000 ISIS prisoners. Turkey is threatening an offensive against the Kurds, which would be unthinkable with Americans in the way.

On April 30, 1975, the last helicopters lifted off the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon. This betrayal of an ally is equally shameful.

Published in Foreign Policy, Military, Politics
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  1. E. Kent Golding Moderator
    E. Kent Golding

    I would be more opposed to leaving Syria & Afghanistan if  I thought  we would be effective in staying there.

    • #31
  2. lowtech redneck Coolidge
    lowtech redneck
    @lowtech redneck

    1.) What an ironic headline.  I’ll leave it at that.

    2.) I haven’t decided how I feel about withdrawing from Syria at this point in time.

    • #32
  3. ToryWarWriter Coolidge

    Of course because the only alternative to eternal policing the world New World Order style is Isolationism.

    I very much doubt anyone would argue that Nixon’s Vietnamization plan and Peace with Honor meant Nixon was isolationist.

    The late George H.W. Bush Dessert Storm campaign where he laid out his victory conditions, achieved them and then went home meant that he clearly believed in isolationism and that America should withdraw from the world stage.

    Nope.  Having good foreign policy vs stupid foreign policy is what we are talking about here.  

    I am reminded of when Tucker Carlson asked why his son had to die for Montenegro and 50 people on Ricochet immediately denounced him as isolationist, but none of them bothered to answer his question.  If you dont have an answer for why Americans should die for NATO, thats a real problem.  

    To many people around here remind me of the Japanese who refused to surrender in the second world war, because of there national honor.  They would rather lose another 10 million people rather than admit defeat.

    • #33
  4. ToryWarWriter Coolidge

    Remember when the Sainted Reagan ordered the Marines into Beirut for 30 days.


    Clearly he was an isolationist when two years later (Hey what happened to only 30 day deployment?!)  He ordered them withdrawn.


    • #34
  5. Hang On Member
    Hang On

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):

    My Question for Mona and all the neo-cons.


    What does victory look like? What are the winning conditions here?

    Seriously. I want an answer.

    My guess is she and all the neo-cons have none.

    I plan to write a much larger post on this.

    For imperialist neo-cons like Mona victory looks like eternal troop presence, continued deaths of Americans, increasing lists of enemies in places in the world where we have no interest, increasing immigration of refugees whom we help to make refugees. This is the world of these vile neo-cons.

    • #35
  6. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson

    If one listened now to those who get to some specifics about why they think we should stay, the top item seems to be to protect the Kurds against the Turks and others. Is this why we were in there from the beginning? If that is legitimate and if we truly have that as part of our national interest perhaps we should work on that as an issue.

    • #36
  7. DrewInWisconsin Member

    Our Mollie has a very thorough take on this event:

    Trump’s Syria Withdrawal Policy Is Correct, But Communicated Horribly

    Requiring “enduring defeat” in Syria will only result in endless war.

    I recommend reading Mollie’s column alongside this one if you’re interested in a different (better, IMHO) perspective.

    • #37
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