For almost two agonizing weeks, the Honorable Lindsey Graham, Republican senator from the theoretical country of Kurdistan, had never been more ashamed in his life to be a Trump supporter. The one-time Trump hater said that President Trump had made the “biggest mistake” of his presidency by withdrawing American troops from northern Syria, a mistake that Graham vowed to hold Trump “accountable” for. At least for a moment, Graham appeared to be channeling his late friend and Trump enemy John McCain in an abrupt turn against the president.
Mr. Graham had some unlikely allies in this matter. Among them: Rachel Maddow, Nancy Pelosi, and virtually all Democrats currently running for president.
Graham now seems to be changing his tune, but it’s telling that it took withdrawing from a foreign conflict to elicit such stark criticism of a president Graham ordinarily supports. As a rule, when Lindsey Graham and Rachel Maddow are mad at Trump for the same reason, it’s probably a good sign that Trump actually did something good — that is, something that actually serves America’s national interest, not the establishment and its destructive freedom-building fantasies halfway across the world.
The same Republicans who have frustrated efforts to secure the southern border want Americans to commit this country’s war power to policing a line in the desert 7,000 miles away. But this is expected from neocons. More surprising is that the Democrats are in perfect agreement.
The Democrats hate Trump so much — and they fear his nefarious, imaginary co-conspirator, Putin, so deeply — that they are turning into hawks.
For two weeks now, Americans have learned that foreign policy, understood as pursuing America’s security and national interest on the world stage, is a shameful pursuit. Rather than do what’s right for America, the United States must always, always subordinate its good to that of other countries — indeed, even to “allies” that do not comprise a country at all.
This was made eminently clear during the last Democratic presidential debate in Ohio, when Democrats condemned Trump’s withdrawal as, in Joe Biden’s words, the worst foreign policy decision in the history of modern America.
The “debate” occasioned not realistic analysis but sentimental platitudes about “the Kurds,” soundbites about “betraying our allies,” paranoid projections about that omnipresent, incomparable chess master of geopolitics — Vladimir Putin, eulogies for John McCain, and the same fanciful idealism behind the past decades of unmitigated disaster abroad.
The sole realist on stage, Tulsi Gabbard, professed to have the same goal as her fellow Democrats: ending the endless wars. But when it got down to the nitty-gritty, it was clear who really meant it and who were the fakers.
The hawks who shared the stage with Gabbard all agreed on one thing: America should end the endless wars, but it needs to be done the smart and honorable way. The experts, the generals, the advisers, and the defense contractors who have presided over years of unqualified catastrophe all agree that when America withdraws from conflicts in the Middle East, it’s our adversaries who win.
See, it’s all very simple: America’s moral credibility, established through decades of bombing the Levant into a lunar hellscape, is in tatters. How can our allies ever trust us again?
What’s more, when America pulls away from a war, that’s “isolationism.” What we get is a “power vacuum,” and then Putin wins. Turkey wins. Iran wins. ISIS wins. America loses, and all the evil bad guys win.
Following this caricature to its conclusion runs up against an obvious and undeniable reality: if leaving the Middle East is always dangerous, if it’s an unforgivable betrayal of our allies, then withdrawal is never an option. Only never-ending involvement will do.
The non-policy “policy” of the Democrats and the neocons would have America straddle a massive contradiction in Syria. As Democrats would have it, America needs to end the endless wars, while remaining committed to them forever — because to not do so would reward an incoherent group of Bond movie villains they want all Americans to fear.
It is now conventional wisdom that Trump got “played” by Putin and Erdogan after the two strongmen reached an agreement to carve up northeastern Syria between Assad’s government and Turkey. America has, foolishly, surrendered Syria to Russia and – perish the thought – Syria’s own government.
The Democrats would have preferred that America had gone to war with a NATO ally for a stateless people with ties to a group that ally views as terrorists. By the same token, it was a thoughtless and craven surrender for America to have abandoned the Kurds to the protection of Russia and Syria. The Democrats’ view appears to be that America needs to stay in Syria forever, in an illegal, undeclared occupation with no purpose. If we don’t, then Putin wins, or something. It’s “our word.”
The furor over the Kurds underscores the Democrats’ transformation into a party of doctrinaire interventionists. To the new Democrat hawks, intractable involvement abroad is essential to upholding the globalist liberal order. Withdrawal is never an option; America must remain involved in the battles of other nations and other peoples, or else Russia will fill the void and destroy liberal democracy.
If this sounds like the international anti-communism of the past, then it’s no accident. The left has embraced neoconservatism, repurposed to their particular pathological obsession with the Kremlin. The Russian threat now supplies a limitless casus belli.
Putin is no longer a man; he has attained, in the left’s nightmares, the titanic proportions of some ethereal, globe-straddling wraith. Putin’s ghost loomed largely over the brief, incoherent foreign policy section of Tuesday night’s debate, when candidates were asked such pressing questions as whether they would consider freezing Putin’s bank accounts.
The Democrats’ newfound hawkishness can be attributed partly to Russia derangement, and partly to the Republican Party’s embrace of Trump, non-interventionism, and nationalism.
The Democrats have responded by embracing the kind of Republicans they once maligned as warmongers and racists. George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and Bill Kristol have all been rehabilitated simply because they are anti-Trump.
By the same token, the Democrats have embraced national security and military “experts” whose purpose is merely to bolster the status quo and shut down criticism of endless war. When James Mattis quit the White House in protest of Trump’s foreign policy, he was hailed as an “adult in the room” who had had enough of Trump’s blundering ignorance; even John Bolton, on his way out the door, was recast as a steadying influence on an otherwise rudderless administration.
When the Democrats talk about withdrawal the “smart” way, what they really mean is doing everything the same way it’s been done. They mean sticking to the sage wisdom of rehabilitated hawks like Bolton and the McCain.
The Democrats would surely agree with Romney that abandoning the Kurds is a “bloodstain on the annals of American history.” Sympathy for the Kurds, like sympathy for refugees and illegal immigrants, is a welcome substitute for putting America, and its citizens, first.
Going by the lamentations pouring forth from the mouths of Romney and his Democrat friends, Trump’s decision to abandon the Kurds is among the most craven, the most immoral, of the most ignominious presidency in American history.
But the reality is far from it: it’s one of the most courageous things Trump has done. It takes courage, real courage, to challenge the media, the establishments of both parties, the military-industrial complex, and the international community, like Trump has done, and put America first for a change.
None of this is really about the Kurds. Whenever President Trump has simply suggested withdrawing from Syria or Afghanistan, the establishment has responded with the same concerted, thrashing hysteria to shut him down. All of a sudden, the most bitter enemies become friends, and the talking heads and generals and pundits start hyperventilating about our “credibility” and “moral leadership,” about how Trump is playing right into Putin’s hands.
But why do we need to stay in northern Syria? Democrats and the neocons can’t say. They don’t have a foreign policy. What they have is reactive derangement and cloying sentimentality about an obscure nationalist movement that has nothing to do with America’s national interest. They have substituted slogans for policy.
The left’s sympathy for the Kurds would be more compelling if they showed half as much concern about American citizens. It’s no wonder the Democrats are united with the neocons in condemning Trump: anything that’s good for America, they’re against.