President Donald Trump is right to withdraw the 2,000 members of the U.S. military serving in Syria. He’s also right to start bringing home troops from Afghanistan.
But the reason to bring them home is not to stop being “the suckers of the world,” as Trump said to soldiers Wednesday in Iraq. That implies the people of these nations implored us to come and want us there, which mostly isn’t so.
We need to pull out because in the end, other nations will be what their people make them, not what the United States tries to impose. We need to pull out because the imposition of our will on other nations often creates hatred that grows into terrorism. And we need to pull out because when the outcomes are uncertain, not killing people, including our own soldiers, and not spending money are the wise bets.
The situations in both Syria and Afghanistan are so fluid and complex that it’s impossible to say what will happen if we leave, or stay. It’s that uncertainty that makes Trump’s call the right one.
Quick, who are we siding with in Syria, and who are we fighting? How about in Afghanistan? No Googling!
Since 2011 in Syria, we’ve tried to support the moderate factions that rebelled and want to unseat President Bashar Assad and build a democracy, as well as Kurdish fighters opposing Assad. But we’ve also tried to oppose the more forceful Islamist factions, including the Islamic State, that want to unseat Assad and build a caliphate. We’ve been hampered in this impossible task by the fact that Iran and Russia support Assad, and the United States does not want to risk a larger conflict. Assad is back in control of most of the nation, which is terrible, and he is as opposed to ISIS as the United States, which is fine. When U.S. troops leave, Syria will soon be much as it was before we came, and that would be true once we leave no matter how long we stay.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban that sheltered Osama bin Laden still controls about 50 percent of the nation, 17 years after we went to war there, and still supports al-Qaida and its offshoots. Taliban power is a disaster for freedom in general and women in particular. But it persists because many Afghans support it, and because the United States drew down its troops there from 100,000 in 2013 to 14,000 now.
We’ve spent $2 trillion in Afghanistan on fighting and aid, or nearly $60,000 apiece for every person in that nation, and lost more than 2,300 American lives, and Afghanistan is much as it was when we arrived.
And yet, the people in Afghanistan and Syria who yearn to be free deserve to be free. We’ve pursued just causes in those nations, often beside noble local allies. But there is a better way to help and spend.
We should bring our troops home safely. Then we should offer to admit citizens of these nations who crave modernity and freedom, and can be vetted, into the United States.
Fighters we kill become martyrs. Factions we squash birth successors. Shaping other nations hasn’t worked. Being a welcoming nation usually has.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.