Donald Trump ran and won on a platform summarized by the slogan America First.
Donald Trump campaigned on a promise of no more wars of choice: no military interventions to liberate other countries, to intervene in so-called “humanitarian” crusades, to force regime change, to coercively spread democracy, or to take sides in other people’s wars or civil wars.
In summation, our military would be used only in the defense of our own country or our closest allies. This was the promise. This was the commitment to the American people made over and over again. It was contrasted with the same old, same old, discredited, interventionist policies embodied first by Jeb Bush, and most of Trump’s primary adversaries, and later by Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump offered Americans a clear, unequivocal choice: America would no longer be policeman of the world. Her sons and daughters would no longer spill their blood in far away countries for causes not directly and plainly tied to our own national security.
As we have seen, in humankind’s history, there is no end to atrocities, massacres, and bloodletting. The Middle East, in particular, is an ever-boiling cauldron of fratricide. Certainly, all people and all nations have an interest in promoting peace and an end to the killing. But it does not follow that the people of the United States should put their safety, their security, and their own people at risk to militarily interfere in these intractable conflicts, however brutal and heinous they may be. Have we learned nothing at all from our disastrous and costly military involvement of the recent sixteen years?
There is no sure way to know which belligerent used poison gas on its enemies, with the resulting horrific effects on the civilian population. We have heard the vaunted ‘government assurances’ before. Excuse this citizen of skepticism. Here is what we do know for sure: civil wars end when one side wins. Period. The longer the wars drag on, the more people are harmed, brutalized, and killed. The longer the war, the higher the civilian casualties. If we seek to lessen the horror, it is counterproductive to escalate the violence. It is a simple concept: first, do no harm.
Starting wars always seems justified in the moment. The problem is that no one knows what will happen next and no one ever knows how or when it will end. The cost in blood and treasure is inevitably greater than anyone ever thinks.
Then, there’s the question of selective outrage. Saudi Arabian warplanes have been relentlessly bombing civilian areas in Yemen for months. At least 15,000 have been killed. Where are the images of these dead and mutilated children? Where is CNN’s outrage with her sanctimonious celebrity pundits calling for regime change in Riyadh? Why hasn’t President Trump initiated a cruise missile attack on a Saudi airbase?
The question must be asked. If the United States militarily intervenes in Syria, effectively taking one barbarous side over the other, what is the effect on our own national security? Is it in the interest of the American people to further undermine any chance of constructive engagement with Russia? Is it to our advantage to return to a neo-Cold War with all the existential risks which may follow? Exactly why should the American people put their own country and their own children at greater risk?
A week ago, President Trump reiterated he is “not president of the world.” Previously he took an oath to defend and protect the U.S. Constitution – not the UN charter or some vague, high-minded, internationalist creed.
The Syrian Civil War is not America’s war. It was raging all during the presidential primaries and the election of ’16. We saw the devastation of Aleppo in the weeks before Election Day. It was all over the headlines. Trump made it abundantly clear that he would not intervene. On the other hand, Clinton advocated arming the ‘rebels’ and the risky enforcement of U.S.- imposed no-fly zones over Syria, effectively putting U.S. warplanes in hair-trigger proximity to Russian, Turkish, and Syrian fighter jets. What could possibly go wrong? The American people elected Trump. The message was loud and clear. Keep out. Stay out. It’s not our war.
But yesterday, we heard the president justifying a military attack with words that could have been spoken by Hillary Clinton. Did we have an election or didn’t we?
President Trump has a choice. He can stay the course he set in the campaign, in his inaugural speech and in the first days of his presidency, keeping America First. Or, he can succumb to the selective hysteria of the Corporate Media, to his most ardent critics, to the omnipresent chorus of NeverTrump Republicans and to the beltway’s permanent war party to choose the path of America Last.
Ron Maxwell is the writer-director of the movie, Gettysburg.