I have no personal knowledge of Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) at all. I can’t say whether he’s a good or a bad politician, because I have no experience of or with him, and I won’t make that judgment based only on what others say about him. Nevertheless, his remarks this weekend on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” about the President’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria show, IMHO, an appreciation for the real issues involved. Here are some excerpts.
You know, I think that we should look at some of the statements of the people who are advocating that we stay in Afghanistan forever and that we also stay now in Syria with no sort of determined end. General Mattis, even General Mattis said that there’s no military solution to Syria, and he’s also said there’s no military solution to Afghanistan. How do you think our young soldiers feel? I have members of my family that are going over there soon, how do you think they feel being sent to Afghanistan when your generals are saying there’s no military solution? So I think the burden is really on Mattis and others who want perpetual war to explain why if there is no military solution we’re sending more troops. I think the onus is really on them to explain themselves.
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We’ve been there seventeen years. We think now we are going to take one more village and we’ll get a better negotiated deal? … That was the strategy of Vietnam for year after year after year … to take one more village and we’ll get a better negotiated deal. No, they waited us out and the Taliban are going to wait us out. They know we will eventually leave and leave we must. I mean I don’t think we have enough money to be paying to build and rebuild and build and rebuild Afghanistan. The President is right and I think the people agree with him. Let’s rebuild America. Let’s spend that money here at home.
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… here is the problem with all of these generals. They’re like, “Oh, it’s precipitous.” We’ve been there seventeen years. We’ve been in the Middle East most of that time. It’s not precipitous. The President promised when we went into Syria, our goal was to wipe out ISIS. We took ninety-nine percent of the land, they’re on the run, can the people who live there not do anything? We spent trillions of dollars arming the entire Middle East, arming Afghan army, can they not do anything? Do we have to do everything? We defeated ISIS. But now you have the– the hawks in the administration and throughout Congress saying, “Oh, now we have to wait until Russia and Iran leave Syria.” Well, that was never our goal and it’s never going to happen. So those people are advocating for perpetual war.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that was the goal articulated by the national security adviser to the President, John Bolton. That is what he said U.S. policy was.
SENATOR RAND PAUL: It– it was never the goal– well, it was never– that’s a new goal. That’s what you call mission creep. The mission has now changed, that we’re going to wait till Iran leaves and Russia leaves. Well, the President told them that’s not his mission and that was never the mission. The mission was to wipe out ISIS and we did succeed. And the thing is it’s incredibly bold to win a war and come home. That’s what the people want. If you poll the American people, it’s sixty to seventy percent of people ready to get out of Afghanistan. And I’ll bet you the same of Syria if you ask the people. It’s only the people in Washington, the armchair generals, that want to keep us at war forever and people, Americans, are tired of it. We want that money here at home and we want to create jobs, roads, bridges here at home not in Afghanistan.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The concern raised by people like Brett McGurk who– who was the President’s diplomat handling the anti-ISIS coalition is that if you move out too quickly, if you agree we’re going to draw down, at least have a plan on how to do it. At least, do it in a way that doesn’t abandon allies. And, in fact, he warned in his resignation letter that this could create a vacuum that would allow terrorist groups like the Islamic State to re-emerge and in other– other words, we’ll have to go back in a few years.
SENATOR RAND PAUL: That will always be true. What– what– that– that statement will always be true. That statement will be true in fifteen years. The place is a mess. I mean, they’ve been fighting each other for a thousand years. Sunni and Shia have been fighting each other since Battle of Karbala in 832 AD … They’re going to fight each other until the end of time. It’s all of them. It’s– it’s a inter-complicated mess that has to do with Sunni extremism versus Shia extremism, and also some other various battles in between. But if we wait until there’s potent– no potential for anybody fighting each other when we leave, we will be there forever.
There’s more at the link.
I repeat what I said last week, which seems to presage much of Senator Paul’s comments:
I ask you: what vital US national interest will be served by leaving our armed forces in the middle of that cauldron of conflicting interests? Please tell me. I can’t see one. Protect the Kurds? We haven’t (officially) been doing that – we’ve been fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda. If we’re suddenly there to protect the Kurds, why? What are our war aims? Why have they not been clearly, categorically, unequivocally defined? If we don’t know why we’re there, how on earth are we going to know when we no longer need to be there? At the moment, it seems to me that US armed forces in Syria are on a mission in search of a problem. Define the problem, and you’ll know when you’ve solved it. Leave it undefined, and you’ll go on chasing your own (and every potential enemy’s) tail until you’re dizzy.
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This is part of the larger question of why the US has so many troops stationed in so many countries. President Trump has reportedly been asking pointed questions about why they’re there, the cost of keeping them there, and whether the US would be better served by bringing them home. He did so even before he became President. That predictably provoked a strong negative reaction from neocons and the establishment that’s grown up over decades to support and defend a US military presence overseas. Nevertheless, it’s a perfectly good question. If we keep troops overseas to support a particular policy, and we never succeed in achieving or implementing that policy, then why are we continuing to support failure by our expensive military presence? Einstein famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Isn’t that a pretty good description of much of this country’s foreign and military policy in recent decades?
Again, more at the link.
In the absence of concrete, objective, measurable answers to Sen. Paul’s questions and mine, I continue to believe that President Trump has made the right call in Syria. If you think otherwise, I’d love to see your reasoning in Comments – taking into account, and answering, the questions above, something I notice most of the President’s critics have signally failed to do.