Seventeen years ago, the US launched an attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan as the first military response to 9-11. Looking back, and forward in a conflict where American troops still fight today.
A year following the first attacks on the Taliban, Senator Hillary Clinton explained that she would vote in favor of President George W. Bush’s request of the Congress to authorize armed force against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq: “Bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely and, therefore, war less likely.”
War broke out five months later.
For most of the next decade, our country was divided over the wars and although it is impossible to prove, Mrs. Clinton’s pro-war vote probably cost her the Democratic nomination for president in 2008 which went to Barack Obama.
In 2007 the war was going poorly for the US. Against the advice of his own counselors and the Democrat Senate majority, President Bush authorized what came to be called the “Surge” under General David Petraeus and the situation stabilized.
In his first term President Obama said to an audience of our soldiers: “We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime – and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government – and you got the job done.”
About the same time, Vice-President Joseph Biden said: “I sound corny, but I think America gets credit here in the region. And I think everybody gets credit, from George Bush to [President Obama].”
In 2011, Mr. Obama fulfilled a campaign pledge and pulled US troops out of Iraq.
The troops came home with no residual forces such as we still have in South Korea and Germany.
But the war in Afghanistan continued and ISIS rose up in Iraq. In Bashir Assad’s Syria a civil war and the government’s brutality created an ongoing crisis.
In 2012 Mr. Obama said “We have been very clear to the Assad regime — but also to other players on the ground — that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus; that would change my equation.”
In 2013 our Defense Department and Israel and Britain reported that Syria had used sarin gas which can also cause paralysis and convulsions to kill 1400 people
Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee said of Syria that “it is clear that red lines have been crossed and action must be taken to prevent larger-scale use.”
Secretary of State John Kerry in a speech that seemed to call for war said: “As previous storms in history have gathered, when unspeakable crimes were within our power to stop them, we have been warned against the temptations of looking the other way. History is full of leaders who have warned against inaction, indifference, and especially against silence when it mattered most.”
That same day, Mr. Obama reinforced Mr. Kerry’s message: “It’s important for us to recognize that when over 1,000 people are killed, including hundreds of innocent children, through the use of a weapon that 98 or 99 percent of humanity says should not be used even in war, and there is no action, then we’re sending a signal that that international norm doesn’t mean much. And that is a danger to our national security.”
But Mr. Obama decided at the last moment not to attack Syria and war did not come. A deal was reached whereby Russia was to assure the destruction of Assad’s weapons. The downside was that Vladimir Putin was able to accomplish was his Soviet and Russian predecessors had failed to do: get Russia back into the Middle East.
As a candidate in 2016, Donald Trump gave signs that he would stay out of Mideast conflicts. He was more the peace candidate than was Hillary Clinton, but the issues seemed unimportant to the electorate.
As president, Mr. Trump has scrambled the situation in the Middle East. He fulfilled the promises made by Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Mr. Trump delivered on his promise to bomb ISIS nearly out of existence. He has authorized the killing of several hundred Russian mercenaries in Syria whose commanders were dumb enough to test American troops. He has bombed Syrian positions in a redo of the old western alliance with Britain and France.
Where next? Who knows?
A lot depends on countries in that part of the world standing up decent governments able to provide stability and opportunity for the citizens.
We probably shouldn’t count on that.
American policy through three very different presidents has been to remain there and, if determined to be necessary, to fight there. Our preference is old-fashioned: We continue to want clear congressional support for this fighting in at least the spirit of the Constitution.
We have lost over two thousand troops in Afghanistan.