In the 2016 election cycle, then-candidate Donald Trump drew widespread support for opposing military adventurism by the United States in the Middle East, famously slamming “dumb wars” like Iraq that cost lives and money and ultimately achieved “nothing.”
This simple critique resonated across party lines and surely played a role in his success at the polls. The American people are sick of imperialism, and Trump appears to have soundly won the veteran vote.
But despite that campaign platform and electoral mandate, now-President Donald Trump is doubling down on military intervention in the Middle East. Yesterday, it was reported that President Donald Trump ordered 400 more troops into Syria to fight to retake the city of Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital. The group includes a team of Army Rangers and a Marine Artillery unit-i.e. not “advisors.”
These orders come on the back of reports that Trump is considering increasing U.S. forces in Afghanistan and a series of new military actions in Yemen against Al Qaeda, which included a raid that led to the death of Navy SEAL William Owens.
This is, if anything, an escalation of the “dumb wars” in the Middle East, not an end to them. So how is one supposed to read these actions given Trump’s campaign rhetoric?
One generous interpretation is that President Trump is keeping a pledge to destroy ISIS, and afterwards plans to limit U.S. involvement considerably in the region. But this does not explain the Yemen raids, Afghanistan increases, or increasing tensions with Iran.
A more likely scenario is that Trump is ramping up to destroy what’s left of ISIS and will then just keep the kill machines rolling as he moves on to other things. That would rule out more Iraq-level blunders, but it substantively leaves the War on Terror in place—a military and political project that has actually led to more terrorism.
In other words, interventionism leads to more interventions. The last 15 years prove that rather well, with a 2001 war in Afghanistan leading to multiple ground and air wars. The U.S. is currently bombing at least seven countries.
So if Trump is, as he has repeatedly claimed, trying to get the U.S. out of the Middle East to focus more on rebuilding at home, this is the worst path to take. The wars will eat up yet more blood and treasure and sow another generation of animosity towards the U.S. in the region, leading to more terror and, subsequently, more intervention.
Almost all of the U.S. foreign policy establishment hates President Trump. Some are undoubtedly playing a role in the current campaign to bring him down. This would seemingly give President Trump an opportunity to break from the past failures of U.S. foreign policy on which he so successfully capitalized during the presidential campaign.
Instead, he is doing the same old thing and promising different results.