It should be a difficult thing to go to war. The decision to engage the nation’s military in a conflict, where death and destruction are not only certain, but the actual goal, should never be taken lightly or casually. And, I’m sure that our leaders, past and present, who’ve sent our troops overseas into more entanglements than I can easily count, have felt the burden of those decisions.

And yet, it doesn’t seem that hard, because we have indeed sent our troops overseas into more entanglements than I can count. Wikipedia offers a list so long, it has to be broken into decades for readability.

Almost all these military actions were and are, indeed, overseas. The 19th Century saw many arguably domestic conflicts, but apart from the Civil War and the War of 1812, we are talking mainly about frontier battles with Native American nations, which might not even be deemed “domestic” under some interpretations (the others in the list mostly involve private citizens, not the army). Even in the 20th century, on-US-soil conflict is almost entirely limited to a handful during World War II (while terrorist attacks have occurred on US soil, the nation has not used its military to fight foreign combatants within our borders).

There’s a difference between fighting an enemy on your homeland, and fighting one in another land. With the former, once you’ve repelled the invader and broken his ability to fight, you’ve won. Victory in the latter case, on the other hand, isn’t as clear-cut, and “going home when you’ve won,” as history has shown us, often boils down to a matter of opinion and policy leanings. Those who are of a more militaristic bent often argue against perfection in resisting calls to “bring the troops home,” which is a formula for eternal foreign entanglements. And, yes, there are many who believe in eternal foreign entanglements, whether it be because they believe in Globocop America, because they think certain foreign threats are eternal and should be fought militarily, or because they have adopted a “we’re here now, we are obligated to finish the job,” despite the impossibility of “finishing the job” to perfection.

So, we remain in Afghanistan, the land where “empires go to die,” 18 years after the 9/11 attacks. We currently have 170,000 troops deployed in 150 nations around the world. And, we have boots on the ground in Syria, where a civil war morphed into a proxy war. What America’s goals are in Syrian involvement is a question with an ever-changing answer, and from where I sit, it’s hard to envision that America could impose an outcome that would fit anyone’s measure of success. Why do we remain there? Habit, inertia, and the moralizing of militarists, who claim, in this instance, that we owe it to the Kurds who allied with us to protect them from, now, the Turks.

Therefore, Trump’s (hamfisted, of course) declaration that the US was going to withdraw its troops from Syria was met with loud and bipartisan denouncement. Why bipartisan? Because, despite decades of press and political spin to portray the Republican Party as the party of war, history makes it amply clear that warmongering is a favored hobby of both sides of the aisle. Since WWII, only Eisenhower and Carter appear to have relatively clean hands in that department. Even Obama, he of the instant and presumptive Peace Prize, turned out to be quite fond of drone-bombing.

This libertarian recognizes and appreciates the fact that both Obama and Trump have been less warmongery than might otherwise be the case had they heeded many of the loud voices in their administrations. And, it’s a good thing that both have made efforts to untangle America from lands where war has waged forever and will wage forever. The details of Trump’s announced withdrawal from Syria are of high relevance, of course, and an announcement is not the same as an actualization, so I will wait with judgment reserved to see if and how it is effected, but the topic on the table today is the conclusion that it’s really easy to send our troops into war, but it’s really difficult to bring them home. That’s backward, that’s not how it should be. Even had we the national will, it is beyond any single nation’s scope to impose global order, no matter what militarists dream, and amply demonstrated by post-WWII history (lest people simplify matters there – even WWII, arguably the sole “good” war in the last century, concluded with a decades-long period of nuclear brinkmanship with the Soviet Union).

There will never be a good time to exit the Middle East conflicts. Someone will get hurt. Yes, there’s an obligation to try and make our exit as clean as possible, but ultimately, if clear and pressing national interests are not being served (its own lengthy debate, I know) by a foreign entanglement, it’s wrong to continue it.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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