"Trump's Failed Promise to Stop America's 'Endless Wars'"
Eric Garris, antiwar.com (July 15, 2020)

Featured Video

Introduction: "Antiwar.com editorial director Scott Horton is featured along with renegade historian Thaddeus Russell in this video presentation by Reason magazine‘s Zach Weismueller."

[trascript of video]"

[0:03] President Donald Trump at SOTU: “Great Nations Do Not Fight Endless Wars”

[0:05] Narrator: “Donald Trump’s pitch to Make America Great Again included a commitment to rethink our interventionist foreign policy.

[0:11] President Donald Trump (along with an accompanying video montage): “We went from mistakes in Iraq, to Egypt, to Libya, to President Obama’s ‘line in the sand’ in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos.”

Narrator: “Trump’s promise to unwind America’s foreign commitments won the vote of some anti-war libertarians who argued that, while many of his foreign policy views were odious, foreign policy mattered most.”

[0:38] “Donald Block, Professor of Economics: “Donald is a peacenik, practically, certainly compared to the warmongering Hillary.”

Narrator: “On the campaign trail, Trump attacked Clinton for pushing U.S. intervention in Libya as Secretary of State and her 2002 vote in the Senate for the Iraq war.”

HRC: “Any vote tht might lead to war should be hard but I cast it with conviction.”

Donald Trump in his campaign debates with HRC: “Almost everything she’s done in foreign policy has been a mistake and it’s been a disaster.”

[1:10] Narrator: “Trump would prove to be the less interventionist alternative to Clinton, argued historian Thaddeus Russel in a 2016 interview with Reason.”

[1:19] Thaddeus Russel: “Whenever there’s a dictator or tyrant we don’t like in any part of the world, we are obligated to remove them. Trump is the first President to call bullshit on that very claim.”

DT: It all began with the dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a western democracy.”

[1:35] Thaddeus Russel: “And in doing so, I think he may do a great service for actual peace, believe it or not.”

Narrator: “But has Trump lived up to the non-interventionist hype?”

[1:49] Thaddeus Russel: “I think Trump has moved America considerably closer to peace at the very same time he’s moved us into more wars, so it’s a terribly mixed bag.”

Narrator: “Russel says that Trump’s rhetoric alone advanced the non-interventionist cause.”

Thaddeus Russel: “He called into question the need for America to invade countries, to change their regimes and to stay there as occupation forces. Specifically, he called into question the Iraq War.”

[2:18] DT (attacking Jeb Bush at Republican primary debate): “Obviously , the war in Iraq was a big fat mistake. We spent 2 trillion dollars, thousands of lives. We don’t even have it. We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the middle east.”

Thaddeus Russel: “And that was really and historic and I’m really grateful for that. Unfortunately, of course, no one took him seriously, or they took him extremely seriously and tried to bring him down.”

[2:36] Narrator: “Trump isn’t the first modern president to promise an end to foreign entanglements on the campaign trail, only to double down on those commitments once in office. Candidate Barack Obama called Iraq a dumb war that he would end and never replicate.

[2:51] Presidential candidate Barack Obama: “We have to use our military wisely. And we did not use our military wisely in Iraq.”

[3:20] Narrator: “Obama did temporarily withdraw troops from Iraq in [GW] Bush’s pre-negotiated timetable, but intervened a few years later after ISIS filled the power vacuum. He also expanded the war on terror into several new countries and began personally ordering covert drone strikes, one of which killed a 16-year-old American and another that killed at least 13 people headed to a wedding. Even George W. Bush who started the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ran against nation-building on the campaign trail.”

GWB: “I just don’t think it’s the role of the United States to roll into a country, and say ‘We do it this way and so should you.’”

[3:35] Scott Horton: “We know the American people want peace.”

Narrator: “Scott Horton, a popular antiwar podcast host and author of a book on the history of the War in Afghanistan agrees with Russel that Trump’s rhetorical attack on the foreign policy establishment helped the anti-war cause.”

[3:54] Scott Horton: “It was necessary for him to destroy the legacy of George W. Bush in order to help defeat Jeb Bush. He really got the vast American sort of tea party Republican voters of America to finally admit that they were wrong to have supported George Bush:”

Narrator: “But he says Trump is too impulsive to be reliably antiwar.”

Scott Horton: “The problem with Donald Trump, of course, is that he’s a millimeter deep. He has some instincts, but he doesn’t have thinking, really, on these things. He doesn’t actually really care. It’s just a matter of what feels stupid to him or not. It seems stupid to pour a bunch of money into the Afghan pit. But is it something for him to have real conviction about and prevent from happening? No.

Narrator: “Trump’s wars with the media, Democrats, and protesters draw daily press coverage. But just because America’s actual wars aren’t on the news every night, doesn’t mean they are any closer to ending. Trump hasn’t invaded any new countries, but he has ramped up the nearly 19 year long, 2 trillion dollar Afghanistan War that has cost the lives of tens of thousands of Afghanis and more than 3500 US and NATO troops.”

[5:06] DT: “My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts.”

[5:15] Scott Horton: “Once they get in there, all the incentives are to keep the thing going.

Narrator: “Trump added thousands more troops in 2017 and dropped more bombs and missles in 2019 than in any previous recorded year.”

DT: “The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.”

Scott Horton: “If you look at Barack Obama and Donald Trump, both, they come in their first year in power and immediately they are met with this full-court press by the military for an escalation.”

Narrator: “Instead of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, he vowed to stop publicly reporting their numbers.”

DT: “We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities.

Narrator: “The Trump administration did strike a deal with Taliban leaders in late February to wind down the war within 14 months if they pledged to prevent terrorist groups like Al Qaeda from operating in the country. And the Pentagon announced a reduction in forces and withdrawal from five Afghanistan bases on July 14th.”

[6:23] Scott Horton: “The fact that Trump was willing to break with Bush and Obama’s policy and go ahead and negotiate directly with the Taliban was a clue that he was really serious.”

Narrator: “But Horton says that deal could be scuttled by allegations that Russia paid bounties to Afghans who killed US troops. Which prompted Republican Liz Cheney to partner with several House Democrats to place conditions on the Afghanistan exit.”

Scott Horton: “The way it’s negotiated is: ‘OK. We’ll withdraw over the next year.’ If Trump is unelected in the Fall, then it would be the new Biden government, presumably, uh, to come in and be in charge of implementing that withdrawal through next May. And so that’s plenty of time, really, not just for Biden, but even for Trump, if he’s re-elected, to go ahead and back down. Once he’s safely re-elected, assume one thing blows up over there, and all they have to say is, you know, that ‘circumstances have changed, whatever it is,’ and stay.’

[7:18] Narrator: “Horton points out that Trump has increased U.S. involvement in Yemen and Somalia.”

Scott Horton: “These are two of America’s most horrible wars, and no one pays any attention to them, whatsoever. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, mostly because of famine and the difficulties. And it is a war that is designed deliberately to inflict as much punishment as possible on the civilian population of the country, deliberately targeting water, electricity, sewage, hospitals, and farms. Anything that is to support the infrastructure of civilian life in that country. It’s a deliberate medieval siege campaign.

[7:56] ] Narrator: “And Trump has continued and escalated the war on terror, which could make the U.S. susceptible to getting involved in even more conflicts around the globe.”

[8:03] Scott Horton: “Any regime in the world that has a problem with any of their subjects, all they have to do is call them ‘terrorists’ and ask the Americans for help, and the Americans will come running.”

DT: “Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon."

Narrator: "Trump also undid Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and ordered a targeted assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani whom he accused of plotting an attack on an American base."

DT: “We took action last night to stop a war.”

[8:32] Narrator: “But after Iran fired back, Trump de-escalated.”

DT: “We did not take action to start a war.”

Narrator: “The previous year, he’d called off an airstrike planned as retaliation for a downed drone.”

CBS media commenter: “The administration is going to have to respond to this or lose a lot of credibility and standing in the region and around the rest of the world.

[8:53] Scott Horton: “Look at the narrative and the agenda in the media.”

Narrator: “Horton says media figures often criticize Trump when he avoids military action or pulls out troops as he did in northern Syria

Media Announcer: “The announcement is seen as another blow to US allied Kurdish fighters."

Elise Labott - CNN: “Well, this is exactly what everyone feared, a free-for-all in what was one of the most stable parts in Syria.”

MSNBC commenter: “What he has done is greenlighted Turkey, greenlighted Russia.

Narrator: “. . . and praise him when he takes military action such as firing missiles into a Syrian airfield following reports of a chemical attack.

[9:27] MSNBC commenter (showing a night launch of a ship-to-shore missile: “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen, “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.”

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria: “Donald Trump became President of the United States, I think this was actually a big moment.”

[9:38] Scott Horton: “How dare Donald Trump try to end any of America’s Wars, try to get out of Syria twice. And they went to full Jihad to force him to stay. And he backed down both times.

Narrator: “One group of scientists believe that Trump has pushed the world closer to nuclear war, citing his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and two Russian nuclear treaties as reason to move the atomic doomsday clock closer to midnight. And Russel worries about the increasingly belligerent rhetoric on both sides of the isle towards China which Trump has escalated tensions with through his trade war and reported placement of low-yield nuclear weapons in the region.”

[10:21] Thaddeus Russel: Going to war with China seems like a very bad idea. I’m actually more worried about the Democrats, long term. They want to surround Russia militarily and force Putin to resign, back down, offer major concessions, basically do business with the United States as we see fit. That’s the long-term danger, but that’s not so much from Trump. To me the best aspect of the foreign policy of Trump is that he has revealed the mind of the foreign policy establishment, the way the foreign policy establishment thinks about foreign policy and, really, government workings and the workings of the state generally.”

Questioner: “And the worst aspect of the Trump foreign policy?"

Thaddeus Russel: The worst aspect of the Trump foreign policy is that he’s a mass murderer, just like the rest of them.”

[11:01] Narrator: “In the end, Trump had the power as commander in chief to start bringing American troops home, but he failed to formulate a coherent strategy for doing so.”

[11:11] Scott Horton: “We spent $8 trillion over 20 years fighting all these wars and doing nothing but empowering our government’s adversaries, the Iranians, and their friends, and our real enemies, Al Qaeda and their friends all around the region. And, meanwhile, you tell me we’re short on hospital beds. We’re short on masks and gowns for nurses. While you guys are still bombing Iraq for now the 30th year straight. It doesn’t have to be this way. It never should have been this way. We screwed up, got the whole 21st century off on the wrong foot. But we didn’t need to. We could call the whole damn thing off now. Everybody knows that. And just forge that new consensus and stick with it. It should be easy, because we’re right.”