Open-ended war continuation has so much momentum in the US that President Trump’s announced pullout from Syria shocked the nation. Followed up the same week with a drawdown from Afghanistan, the mainstream is now completely apoplectic.
On the left and right, comfort with the status quo was virtually uniform. The arguments behind condemning the drawdowns vary depending on the side of the aisle the commenter is on, but the message is uniform opposition to ending a war Congress never authorized in the first place.
Conservative hawks are playing the usual fear-mongering about threats that have been ongoing since 2001, with suggestions that either not being in Syria, or being in Afghanistan but at a lower troop number, will lead to “the next 9/11.”
Perma-hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has never seen an escalation he didn’t like, and he is demanding Senate hearings on Trump’s troop level changes. It’s not clear such hearings will happen, however.
In Afghanistan, this is hardly the first drawdown the US has done, and despite Graham opposing them all, they’ve generally just happened. It’s also not clear the Senate has any say in how the Syrian War is being engaged in, or not engaged in, as the Senate has consistently refused to vote on the question of authorizing the US to be in Syria in the first place.
Others were quick to call Trump’s policy in Syria “Obama-like,” even though Obama is the one who sent troops to Syria in the first place, and Trump campaigned in 2016, at least at times, on the idea of eventually withdrawing. Eventually withdrawing works as a campaign slogan, but clearly officials never expected it to happen as a real policy.
Among Democrats, the argument is a bit more confused but no less shrill, as they’ve attacked Trump’s hawkish impulses, but are now accusing him of acting hastily and arbitrarily in ending the war. That Russia has not favored the US presence in Syria is only riling up the argument that Putin is driving US policy as well.
Yet the arguments for staying in Syria, or Afghanistan, aren’t particularly strong, and it is only that both parties’ leadership have so consistently balked at exploring the question that seems to have left many with the impression that the very question was off the table.
The American public, however, seems to broadly support Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria, and to bring some troops home from Afghanistan. The White House switchboard is laden with calls of support.