- - Wednesday, November 6, 2019

“Great nations do not fight endless wars.”

Those were the words of President Trump in this year’s State of the Union address. Fast forward eight months and America’s involvement in the Middle East is still as tumultuous and confusing as ever. Just a few short days after heralding the long-awaited end of the “ridiculous, endless wars” weeks ago, Mr. Trump just as abruptly agreed to send more than 1,500 additional troops to Saudi Arabia. Since then, the world has seen sanctions imposed on Turkey only to be lifted by the White House and reintroduced by Congress days later, and a temporary ceasefire brokered between Turkey and Syria that seems to have done little to nothing in stopping the bloodshed.

Without a doubt, the entire state of affairs prompts a myriad of questions. One in particular that perhaps the American people should be asking more frequently, however, is, “What exactly is our foreign policy?” After all, the recent lack of consistency — in addition to the U.S. government’s long history of installing democracies in one country and dictators in the next — would seem to indicate that, contrary to popular belief, we don’t actually have one.

The bitter reality of the matter is that, as faulty, arbitrary or capricious as our government’s exploits abroad have been in decades past, the consequences of what has essentially become an “America Last” foreign policy are alive and well. Between record-breaking trillion-dollar deficits, a dystopian surveillance state built from the very same technology used to terrorize other countries and a nation full of people who (rightfully) feel that their government has forgotten them, the repercussions of the continued American military presence overseas run far deeper than even the bravest of pundits care to admit.

In November 2018, Brown University published the findings of its Costs of War project, which estimated that between 480,000 and 507,000 people had been killed as a result of the American wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq alone; of these, nearly 7,000 casualties were American service members. Additionally, more than 53,700 U.S. soldiers and sailors have returned home from Afghanistan and Iraq wounded, and more than 300,000 have suffered from traumatic brain injury.

And as the war machine tears through one nation after another, a separate crisis blooms right here at home: the national debt. While estimates vary slightly, Brown University’s findings also conclude that America’s militarism across the Middle East has cost upward of $6 trillion since 2001. This includes appropriations for war made by Congress; interest paid on money borrowed for war; yearly increases to the Pentagon and homeland security budgets; foreign aid; current veterans’ care; and estimated future costs of veterans’ care and disability.

If you had 6 trillion bills, you could lay them end-to-end and circle the Earth 23,350 times. You could also go to the moon and back 1,217 times, or the sun and back just over three times. No doubt, these numbers should be terrifying — and it shouldn’t be difficult to see why economists and pundits commonly refer to them as “astronomical.” Yet, far too often, the same people who have been the first to declare that America isn’t the “world’s policeman” have also been the first to scream bloody murder when we finally leave the battlefield.

For a brief example of this, look no further than Sen. Lindsey Graham, who (in typical fashion) reversed himself on the Syria situation again just last week, finally acknowledging the necessity of getting American forces out of the war-torn nation. Similarly, in an interview with Fox News last month, Mr. Graham admitted that “[Trump is] right to want to reduce our commitment [and] lower our cost. Eighteen years later, what have we found? Al Qaeda’s still there. ISIS is there …” Just weeks later, however, Mr. Graham pivoted from this, too, in a tweet reading, “The Obama-libertarian foreign policy does not make America safe …” 

Such an unforgivably ignorant statement cannot be allowed to go uncriticized. To conflate the foreign policy of former President Obama with the views held by the majority of libertarians indicates not just a painful misunderstanding of the libertarian platform, but a serious case of short-term memory loss on the part of Mr. Graham. From the intervention in Libya, to the war in Yemen, to America’s involvement in the Crimean peninsula, the libertarian movement was perhaps more vocal than any other bloc in its unified opposition to the disgraceful policies of the Obama administration. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Graham was praising Mr. Obama for arming Syrian rebels in 2013, and again for intervening in Ukraine in 2014, describing Mr. Obama’s actions as “a very good job.” What changed, Mr. Graham?

This being the case, the short-sightedness of Mr. Graham is not unique; rather, the political class’ chronic obsession with war games like those ravaging Syria, Yemen and elsewhere today has long surpassed addictive levels. The time for courage on this issue is now — the courage to say enough is enough, or as former Congressman Ron Paul once said, it’s time to “just come home.”

Despite the headlines, talking points and hot air, refocusing on the challenges we face in America does not mean isolating the United States from the rest of the world. It means opening ourselves up to new forms of diplomacy with foreign countries and building relationships centered around peace and trade as opposed to war, hostility and intimidation.

Like breaking any other addiction, however, withdrawal is always the hardest part.

• Cliff Maloney is the president of Young Americans for Liberty.

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