Most New Year’s Resolutions last but a few days. By late January the crowd in the gym dwindles down to its normal size. Most resolutions are fantasy, a simple act of wishful thinking. We all know this. Still, dreams are what makes life tolerable. So, in that spirit, let’s take a break from the standard critique of existing US foreign policy and conjure a world as it should be, not as it is. Consider this the ultimate New Year’s make believe – a resolution to swear off militarism and forever war in the Greater Middle East.
It would begin with a restructuring of the entire legal framework for American war-making. US soldiers still kill and die – and bomb at least seven countries – under two outdated Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). One, in 2001, authorized the president to battle the culprits of the 9/11 attacks, the Al Qaeda organization. The other, in 2003, approved the tragic-comic invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein. Neither resolution is relevant to the fights at hand, which, therefore are only of dubious legality. In 2019, the US Congress should reassert its constitutional primacy in warfare, overturn the old AUMFs, and demonstrate the courage to debate and vote on each of America’s ongoing wars. If the people’s representatives truly believe any of the ongoing shooting wars – in Syria, Libya, Niger, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan – are worth fighting, then let them say so publicly and declare war.
My guess is that most congressmen, knowing the prevailing public skepticism of ongoing overseas interventions, wouldn’t authorize the continuation of these disastrous campaigns. America’s forever warfare state might wither under the light of legitimate oversight. Nevertheless, no matter how Congress voted, the very act of public debate and accountability would be a refreshing change for our ostensible republic. When it comes to the momentous decisions of war and peace, more, not less, transparency should be the norm in 2019.
Next, in our dream scenario, the US House would pass the recent Senate Bill and pull all American military support from the disastrous Saudi-led terror war in Yemen. Then, in a surprise reversal of his stated intent, President Trump wouldn’t veto but rather sign this better-late-than-never legislation. The withdrawal of all US intelligence, logistics, and munitions support might then slow the pace of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe – which has led to the starvation deaths of at least 85,000 Yemeni children.
While we’re at it, the president and Congress would take matters even further, to wit, freezing all military aid and arms sales to Saudi Arabia until it ends its war in Yemen, fesses up to the murder of Jamal Khassogi, and removes Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) as crown prince. In doing so, the US would make clear that there are humanitarian red lines it will no longer cross and admit that Saudi Arabia’s repressive theocracy is little more than an "official" ISIS caliphate. Oh, and for that matter, Washington should make clear that American troops will not be drawn into an ill-advised, unnecessary war with Iran on behalf of the Saudis.
In Syria, Trump would ignore congressional hawks and the bipartisan interventionist fanatics in the media and swiftly extricate the troops from a dangerous, aimless war of questionable legality. He’d accept the region as it is, not as Washington wishes it were, and open talks with Putin and Assad. Whatever the newly minted Cold Warriors over at MSNBC claim, both these leaders can and should be dealt with. Assad has already won the civil war. The best deal the US can hope for is one that promises limited civil and cultural autonomy to the Kurds and a Russian-Syrian commitment to fight our shared enemy – the remnants of ISIS.
Next, the US would admit strategic failure in Iraq and withdraw the last of its troops from what’s been a fifteen year saga of farcical defeat. There is no more to be done in Iraq and further commitment only risks the outbreak of yet another anti-American insurgency. It’s time to get out of the occupation game – neo-imperialism has only spelled disaster these many years. Look, the Iraqis, by and large, don’t want us there! In the wake of Trump’s recent visit, Iraqi politicians from both sides of a divided parliament called for a prompt American withdrawal. Let’s give them what they want before it’s too late.
The unwinnable war in Afghanistan – America’s longest ever – must end in 2019. The U.S.-backed government in Kabul is facing imminent military defeat whether Washington likes it or not. What follows won’t be pretty, to be sure, but continued American intervention only plays for a tie, delays the inevitable, and costs ever more blood and treasure. It’s time to cut losses, ignore sunken costs, and quit throwing good money at bad. Trump’s reported intent to pull out half the troops in Afghanistan is a good start and should be followed by full, prudent withdrawal before year’s end. After nearly eighteen years of fruitless war, now that’d be a New Year’s Resolution for the ages.
Finally, in the spirit of getting tough on our complex regional frenemies, Washington would reverse course on Israel, apply pressure, and win back what’s left of America’s good name on the Arab "street." As with Saudi Arabia, so with Israel. Until (soon-to-be-indicted) Prime Minister Netanyahu freezes all illegal Jewish settlement building in the West Bank, grants civil rights and a path to meaningful sovereignty to Palestinians, and lifts the stranglehold on Gaza, the US should halt all military aid and arms sales. Such a policy has the benefit of being both strategically and ethically sound, and that’s a rare thing in this world. Firstly, Palestinians are human beings, and, furthermore, its long past time for an American president to make clear that this country refuses to fight Israel’s wars – including with Iran – any longer. After all, didn’t Trump say something about "America First" on the campaign trail?
In 2019, Trump, who is unfortunately already wavering, should continue to defy the bipartisan orthodoxy of forever war and bring home the troops from Washington’s various Mideast quagmires. Just before the holidays, the president demonstrated some earthy common sense in calling for said troop withdrawals and even tweeted that US defense spending was "crazy." (Though, under pressure from the "adults” in his administration, he promptly reversed himself.). Nonetheless, Trump showed some good judgment in December 2018 that makes our dream resolution scenario seem just a little less far-fetched. And, as a rule, when the president pisses off both mainstream Dems and Repubs he just might be on to something!
Should he continue to do so, should he truly take on the military-congressional-industrial complex and bring home the troops, then this author – who has spent the better part of two years criticizing this president’s policies – might just begin chanting "Drain the swamp!" right along with him.
Trump pulling a foreign policy one-eighty in 2019, now that’d be one hell of a New Year’s Resolution. Let’s hope that fantasy lasts past January…
Danny Sjursen is a US Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.
[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.]
Copyright 2018 Danny Sjursen