This editorial first appeared in The Dallas Morning News. Guest editorials don’t necessarily reflect the Denton Record-Chronicle’s opinions.
In Texas, a state with more than 160,000 active-duty and reserve military personnel and 1.4 million veterans, we understand President Donald Trump’s desire to withdraw from what he calls “endless wars” in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
We also understand the many sacrifices made by our brave fighting men and women and their families since that horrible September morning in 2001 when 2,977 innocent men, women and children — from 78 countries and every faith — were murdered by Islamist terrorists on U.S. soil.
We’re painfully aware that since 9/11, more than 7,000 men and women in uniform have died in the global war on terror, many of them from our state, our community and our families. We honor their service and mourn their loss not just on Memorial Day but every day we live and work and raise our families in peace.
What we don’t understand is how the president of the United States could come to Dallas, as Donald Trump did two weeks ago, and call his recent betrayal of a loyal U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic State terrorists in northern Syria — the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — “tough love.”
What we don’t understand is how he could compare the Turkish slaughter of our SDF allies — who lost more than 10,000 fighters in the past five years eradicating Islamic State strongholds in northern Syria — to a playground scrap: “Sometimes you have to let them fight like two kids in a lot,” the president said. “You got to let them fight and then you pull them apart.”
What we can’t fathom is how what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called a “grave strategic mistake” that will “leave the American people and homeland less safe, embolden our enemies, and weaken important alliances” could be called by the president of the United States a “big success.”
What we don’t understand is how the president could say, “Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand” even as a U.S.-brokered “permanent cease-fire” provides political cover for Turkish troops and their proxies to continue slaughtering our erstwhile Kurdish allies.
What we don’t understand is how the president continues to claim he’s sending the U.S. troops in northern Syria “back home” even as he’s redeploying many of them to Iraq and Saudi Arabia and has shifted the U.S. mission in the region to protect oil fields and not in support of our allies.
What we don’t understand is an “America First” foreign policy that routinely puts our most trusted friends last and has put our brave fighting forces in the humiliating position of being pelted with rocks and vegetables by Kurdish civilians who feel abandoned and betrayed by the U.S. withdrawal.
What we don’t understand is how retired Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, a former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command and one of the most respected military leaders in America, could write recently that among the military community he’s witnessed a “current of frustration, humiliation, anger and fear,” stemming from the widespread feeling that, “The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within.”
Why do they feel this way? “They have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own,” McRaven explained. “They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield.”
Like the president, we don’t want our brave fighting men and women engaged in “endless wars.” But history has shown us what happens when the U.S. retreats into isolationism and abandons the very alliances that safeguard peace.
Our post-9/11 obligations, to the Kurdish-led SDF and to our allies in Afghanistan’s Armed Forces, are every bit as important as the postwar alliances formed in Europe and Asia after World War II.
There’s a reason we still have troops in Japan and South Korea and in our NATO partners’ lands. We are there not merely to protect oil fields or trade routes, but to promote and defend U.S. interests, chief among them liberal democracy and human liberty. As McConnell said quite eloquently, “America’s wars will be ‘endless’ only if America refuses to win them.”
What we don’t understand is why Trump doesn’t understand this.