As I See It

Even if humankind lasts another 100,000 years, which seems unlikely, we may never have peace on Earth. Human beings seem wired for conflict, for envy of the neighbor, for hatred of the other. Besides, experts predict that climate change will bring on ever more strife as the hard-pressed and unlucky -- residents of low-lying island nations, for example -- begin mass migrations to higher ground and safer sanctuaries.

But even if prayers for lasting peace are never to be answered, we can keep seeking that long-sought end to conflict, can’t we? We can continue to pray and work for peace on Earth, right? Allow me, then, a modest bit of praise for our erratic president: I’m glad that he is seeking to bring American troops home from the Middle East. We’ve been at war in that challenging and chaotic region for much too long.

Sure, it’s hard to escape the feeling that President Donald J. Trump is drawing down U.S. troops in Syria and Afghanistan in all the wrong ways and for all the wrong reasons. His sudden decision to pull out of Syria, for example, which apparently prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, is easy to read as a concession to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, who supports the brutal rule of Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad. (It’s also difficult to escape the sense that Putin is Trump’s puppet master.)

Trump’s insistence that U.S. troops leave immediately -- if that order is followed -- is also likely to increase the chaos. With the assistance of U.S. forces, Kurdish-dominated militias have done much of the fighting and dying to contain the Islamic State group. A sudden pull-out would not only leave them with no backup, but would also further blemish our reputation among allies.

But the truth is that we had no business with boots on the ground in Syria in the first place. It is a bloody quagmire, and the American people have no stomach for the sort of commitment required to force Assad out. President Barack Obama was right to resist a large-scale intervention. Yes, civilians, including children, are dying as Assad’s Russia-backed forces give no quarter. It’s miserable. But there is precious little the U.S. can sensibly do about it. Ramping up another ground war in the Middle East would be a fool’s errand.

As for Afghanistan, U.S. troops have been losing limbs and lives in that forsaken landscape for 17 years -- since the atrocities of 9/11 -- and the nation is no more stable, no less a failed state, no less likely to be a haven for terrorists than it was when our soldiers went there to root out al-Qaida. It’s another woeful and corrupt territory that neither our military might nor our good intentions can shape to our liking.

It’s time for us to learn a hard lesson: We cannot fix most of the wretched places on the planet. So Trump should start a draw-down, leaving in place a very small and mobile force that can continue to track down terrorists.

Trump didn’t say he would draw down forces from Iraq, but he should have. President George W. Bush’s foolish 2003 invasion destabilized the region and led directly to the formation of the Islamic State group. Before the invasion, a cautious Colin Powell, then secretary of state, supposedly warned President Bush about its consequences with his often-repeated “Pottery Barn” rule: You break it, you own it. We did, indeed, break Iraq, but we cannot “own” a sovereign state except as invading conquerors. Iraqi leaders want us out.

President Trump didn’t mention Yemen, either -- a desolate nation where the U.S. has been providing Saudi Arabia with military support in its campaign against Houthi rebels. But the war has brought unspeakable suffering to Yemeni civilians; an estimated 8 million people are on the brink of starvation. The U.S. Senate has voted to stop aiding the Saudi war, but the measure has not yet passed the House. The entire Congress should force a halt to this madness.

None of this will bring peace on Earth, of course. But limiting U.S. involvement in unnecessary wars will, at least, absolve us of some of the responsibility for the suffering and dying. And bringing our troops home may give them, at last, some small measure of peace.

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