It is not an easy thing to leave an ally alone on the field.
For those of us who have worn the uniform and worked with foreign comrades, there is a strong bond forged between those of other nations with whom we trained — and beside whom we perhaps even fought.
But those legitimate feelings of loyalty, honor, and shared sacrifice do not take the place of the cold, hard, geopolitical realities that we as a nation sometimes must face.
Or, as the 19th century British statesman Lord Palmerston said, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies — they only have permanent interests.”
So it is with the Kurds.
President Donald Trump is right to withdraw our forces — a small group of approximately 50 to 100 troops in northern Syria — from Kurdish-held territory on the Turkey border, an action he announced this past week.
“We’re not a police force,” the president said on Monday at the White House.
“I don’t want to stay there for the next 40 years,” Trump also said. “It’s not going to do anything … I campaigned on the fact that I was going to bring our soldiers home, and bring them home as rapidly as possible.”
“We’re willing to do what we have to do, but there has to be an end game,” he said later in his remarks.
Yes, the Kurds are an independent people who have stood next to us as staunch allies.
So were the South Vietnamese. Should we have invaded the North to stop the South’s defeat in the Vietnam War in the spring of 1975? Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek was our ally. A land war on mainland China to forestall a communist victory in 1949, anyone?
North Korea is a brutal state that subjugates many of its people to the point of animal husbandry. Should we land the 82nd Airborne in Pyongyang to liberate them because it would be morally right?
Though these options would have been — and would be — emotionally satisfying, they are strategically indefensible. And our national security policy needs to be based on our beliefs, not our feelings
So it seems strange that the some of the loudest protests right now against Trump’s announcement on this matter are coming from within the GOP. Most members of the hysterical emotion party — the Dems — have remained silent because they darkly think that withdrawing American forces from anywhere is a good thing.
Those Dems who publicly oppose the president on this have not suddenly become proponents of an aggressive American foreign posture. They merely want to try to score points off Trump any way they think they can.
If the president cured cancer, they’d talk about health care unemployment.
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The cleavage in the GOP is a reverberation from the Cold War. The U.S. was facing the Soviets then. They were a global enemy committed to our destruction. We faced off with them, many times by proxy, in more than several nooks and crannies on the planet.
Repeated retreats in that contest could have had existential consequences.
But after long toil and the canny brinkmanship of President Ronald Reagan, we won the Cold War. With that, we did more than our bit, yet again, to actually save the planet (as opposed to the watermelon socialists — green on the outside, red on the inside — of today). That kind of treasure and blood was spent by us three times within 100 years.
We have earned the right to now look after our own national interests first — while still meeting our strategic responsibilities.
We can remain hawks — just not the birds of the knee-jerk variety.
Some people in the GOP haven’t quite internalized that yet; they see any strategic maneuver that does not lead with a punch in the face as cowardice and betrayal. Nuance is not their forte.
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Also, as a veteran, I have always found it ironic that some of the strongest cries for military intervention come from those who have never worn a military uniform. I mean, gee — I would hate to interrupt anybody’s time in law school with a silly thing like national defense.
And, c’mon, the Turks aren’t exactly the Soviets. They are, in fact, NATO allies.
Yes, their wannabe dictator Erdogan has been feisty of late and not necessarily in a way we would encourage. However, much of that is designed for internal consumption to distract from his domestic woes.
This move likely smoothed some of his feathers and may make him less annoying to us in the future. And that’s the key, for us.
As for the Kurds?
They have been duly trained by our special forces and are well supplied with weapons and support equipment from us. We have not ruled out resupplying them if we thought it was necessary. The American personnel committed to the operation only numbered in the hundreds at best — and some reports have it at less than that. So it’s not like we’re hightailing it off Omaha Beach.
The Kurds have been bravely fighting for a country of their own against one and all for centuries — and in all probability they will continue their struggle. But when it comes down to it, American lives should only be expended on American interests.
Far too many U.S. combat deaths already on near-eastern fields attest to the wisdom of that.
The president recognizes this, campaigned on it, and won on it.
And in the final analysis, he realizes this: As much as we wish the Kurds well, this just isn’t our fight.
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