I fully support President Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria. I don’t agree with everything Trump does, but in this instance he is displaying exactly the kind of courage in public policy that our country needs right now. I think there are a lot of Americans who quietly agree with me. I do not think these views have been articulated, even by conservative media. So I am going to articulate them here.
First, I am going to cite my personal bias: I am from a military family.
My father was a combat veteran in Vietnam. He was drafted into the Army in 1968-69, the peak of the war over there. He fought as a door gunner on a helicopter gunship with the 101st Airborne. Men fighting in his position had a life expectancy of 30 seconds in battle. Our family considers it a bona fide miracle that he survived. Most of his peers did not.
Like most combat veterans, my father refused to tell many stories about his time in combat. My parents saved the letters they wrote each other during his time there. Well, they saved his letters to her; he was forced to burn her letters after he read them. It was common for the opposing side to steal family correspondence and write vicious things back to soldiers’ loved ones back home. And they could contain sensitive information about the war.
Occasionally, he would see a movie about Vietnam and then he’d go sit in his truck and sob for hours. He had violent nightmares through my entire childhood, and continues to have violent nightmares now that his is in his 70s.
Imagine your dysfunctional government forcing you to experience such horrific and traumatic events that you are having nightmares about them 50 years after the fact. I can tell you from personal experience that combat quite literally re-wires your brain. It permanently changes your neural chemistry and the pathways your mind is willing and able to entertain. The psychological impact of combat on veterans is on par with a profound physical handicap.
My father came home from war in the height of the cultural revolution in the US. He experienced many of the typical things veterans experienced then. He was chewed out by strangers when they saw him in uniform. He attempted to finish college, but his mind was not able to focus on the ordinary concerns of young adults post-combat. He came home one day and threw his medals in the garbage – including his Bronze Star for Valor in Combat, which he earned for fighting in battles like Hamburger Hill.
I come from a family of immigrants, but I am proud to say that every generation of my family has produced a soldier for this country. My grandfather stormed Normandy in World War II. My cousin was stationed in the DMZ in Korea, and knows what it is like to stand guard at a place where a firefight could break out any second. We are a family of warriors, and I love that.
My father has no judgment for Trump for dodging the draft in a war that he himself would have preferred never to have been sent to. He considers that a rational decision. My father had to kill a man on his 21st birthday – an event that most Americans celebrate by going out bar-hopping with friends and getting black-out drunk – who was sneaking into his camp in the middle of the night to slaughter his fellow soldiers. He understood the necessity of that action, but he still struggles with the image of that man’s eyes in the dark night. He had to end that life. The life of someone who probably felt equally justified in what he was about to do. Many people talk about such decisions, from the luxurious position of not having to make them in the world that exists beyond social media, as if they are black-and-white political issues. They absolutely are not.
My father’s situation was not all that different from the experiences of soldiers in the Middle East right now. They are off fighting in wars that most Americans have forgotten or never knew existed. If it weren’t a perceived opportunity to snub Trump, the media would not be covering any aspect of these conflicts right now. In the Common Core era of American education, I doubt most young Americans can point to Syria on a map. Or Yemen, for that matter. Or Somalia. Many were only born when the events that sent us into Afghanistan occurred. There were no actual events that sent us into Iraq. That was a scam. We send soldiers to risk their lives in wars that are, frankly, mostly irrelevant to most Americans. At the very least, they are not understood by most Americans. I am certain our Founding Fathers never anticipated such a situation. Heck, some of these wars have no formal authorization from Congress. That would break the Founding Fathers’ brains.
We have spent essentially $8 trillion on wars in the Middle East in my lifetime. And the same people who can’t find Syria on a map likewise are not experiencing the economic fact of having to pay for those wars. This is not like World War II when food is getting rationed and women can’t buy pantyhose. Where every family knows someone who died in combat and the sacrifices seem necessary and inevitable. The swamp creatures that keep us in these eternal wars are borrowing that money from China and Japan, with interest, and they just re-finance that debt over and over and over again. The cost of servicing the country’s debt alone is starting to become a budget component that should not be ignored. But we just start financing more of the country’s day-to-day operations instead of changing. That’s a problem for future generations. It’s immoral.
Think of the opportunity cost of that spending for a second. Imagine some parallel universe where Americans spent $8 trillion on public schools, infrastructure, or the space program. We would be a very different country right now. The most popular people on the debate stage would not be apologists for Stalin’s ideology. A lot of things have shattered this country and its political discourse, but it’s not hard to see the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the proximate cause for our own cold civil war.
The thing that pisses me off the most about the wars in the Middle East, however, is this: If we were going to intervene militarily in any region right now, it should be Central America and providing military assistance to Mexico to break apart its drug cartels. The unrest in these countries – which are not on the other side of the world from us, but merely to the south – is creating real humanitarian and economic crises for the US. Right here, on our soil. Yet we keep sending our grandchildren’s treasure to the Middle East. A trillion here, a trillion there. If you challenge that status quo, you must be an irrational, uneducated deplorable.
In the last federal fiscal year, nearly one million people – mostly humanitarian and economic refugees, but accompanied by a not insignificant number of bad actors as well – attempted to cross the southern border. Most of them have nothing and pose nothing but a social cost on the US population. They are experiencing incomprehensible suffering, and the US – wealthy as this nation is – is not in a financial position to support all of them.
Most of the heroin and other drugs on the streets in the US have come across the southern border, and cartels know how to use the humanitarian crisis they have helped create to conceal their evil shadow economy. Every major city in the US now has a homelessness crisis that is really simply a drug crisis. Even the tiny beach town that we live in now has several heroin camps hidden out in the middle of the jungle.
If you bring up these concerns about immigration policy, you are usually deemed a racist or xenophobe, no matter how many good intentions you have. Here in Florida, we live among the refugees from socialism and drug cartels. I can tell you from talking to these people directly that they are not Bernie bros. The naivete of our politics stuns them.
How did we get to the point where we will spend trillions of dollars fighting in wars the US was never logically a counterparty to, while addicts rot in plain view and our southern border is plagued with the destruction of brutal, evil tyrants that are only an hour plane ride away from the US?
There are no heroes in the civil war in Syria, no matter how many crocodile tears the establishment sheds for the Kurds. Our participation in that conflict is not as simple as the media and policymakers who are on defense contractors’ payrolls make it seem. During the Obama administration, the Pentagon and the CIA were arming folks on both sides of the conflict. Americans were seriously paying for US interests to fight each other. As long as more guns get sold, Washington doesn’t complain. For the same reason they don’t care that cancer drugs cost $50,000.
If you want to argue that the US should stay in several conflicts in the Middle East indefinitely, that’s fine. But I want to hear you acknowledge that in saying that, you are also saying that you want kids in the US to get a garbage education. That you want people in the US to sit on bridges with poor safety ratings during their morning commute. That endless wars are more important than health care reform or stabilizing Social Security and Medicare. That sending our youth to make sure the Kurds and Turkish forces play nice is the single biggest political priority to you. Because when you quantify the cost of these wars, that is where it ranks in reality.