It’s not easy to end a war even when it’s not going very well. President Trump promised to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Syria, but under pressure from the war community in Washington changed his mind about Syria. Some troops will remain to make sure peace, or its approximate, is secured. He has also calmed tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea but recently ended a summit with the North Korean leader with nothing accomplished, again owing to the resistance of the Washington warriors who fight, to be sure, from a distance.
This is a case when the American political leadership is lagging behind the people who we are told are the heart of democracy. Their will sustains it. Traditionally, wars are fought to be won. Otherwise, what’s the point? But Americans have been kept in the dark by the failure to inform them of all the questionable wars fought in their name. Even members of Congress were startled when they learned of four American soldiers killed in Niger. “I didn’t know there were 1,000 American troops in Niger,” said Senator Lindsey Graham. “We don’t know where we’re at militarily in the world and what we’re doing.”
Stephanie Savell, co-director of the Costs of War Project, undertook the task of finding all the places where the U.S. continues to fight the global war on terrorism, however it’s described. To her surprise there are military missions in eighty countries or forty percent of the nations on the planet. How successful are they? Except for a few of the obvious ones we have no way of knowing. We do know they have cost well over half a million lives so far in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan with deaths in other countries still uncounted. The current price tag for this output: some $6 trillion.
Even with this limited information, Americans are much in doubt. A survey of a thousand people in various walks of life by the Eurasia Group Foundation found that Americans are not in a mood to go to war to remake or reform the world. That illusory goal is not in the national interest or even the global. A mere 17 percent of respondents think America is exceptional because of what it has done for the world. Most want to set an example at home.
This does not suit former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s grandiloquent vision: “If we have to use force it’s because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.” In its survey called “Worlds Apart: U.S Foreign Policy and American public opinion,” Eurasia notes the sharp contrast between Americans queried and the so-called foreign policy establishment. Like Albright, almost half the presumed experts sampled still consider America “indispensable” in guiding the world, while only 9.5 percent of the public share that view.
The Washington government is not impervious to public opinion. Both houses of Congress have voted to end arms and other support to the catastrophic Saudi war on Yemen, though the ultimate effect remains to be seen. Still, it’s a step. A more crucial one is for President Trump to summon the toughness on which he prides himself and stick to his original timetable for getting out of these wars.