As a Gold Star Husband and a Combat Veteran, I Support President Trump Ending Our 9/11 Wars | Opinion

President Trump's decision to remove our troops from the Turkish border and seize control of oilfields in eastern Syria has resulted in a flurry of articles and TV appearances from numerous retired generals warning us how wrong Trump is. The retired generals are highly critical of Trump's skepticism of our post-9/11 wars and his approach to rouge nations like Iran and North Korea as well as his plans for dealing with Russia and China.

What is easy to miss in the media hype is that the most vocal of critics of Trump's foreign policy decisions are not offering any new solutions to the complex problems that America faces. Their criticism without policy recommendations implies that things were going just fine before Trump was elected.

Americans know better. How can we justify our 18 year war in Afghanistan and our misadventures in Iraq , which led to the creation and rise of ISIS? These actions can't be defended with anything more than vague slogans about our values and norms—hardly a justification for over seven thousand dead and trillions of our taxpayer dollars spent. Trump, meanwhile, is trying new methods—and this infuriates the defenders of the status quo, the status quo that has allowed for the making of so many careers and fortunes with minimal results.

The harsh reactions from retired senior military officers should not come as a surprise. This is the first time in the post-9/11 era that a Commander in Chief has not used the military as his tool of choice for foreign policy. Presidents Bush and Obama both deferred the majority of their decisions to the military while providing vague guidance based on their ideals or political machinations.

Bush and Obama's hiatus from executive leadership in foreign policy cut out the will of the American people. Make no mistake, the American people are willing to use military force, when it's needed. After 9/11 we demanded vengeance and deterrence, and the invasion of Afghanistan had almost universal support from the American people. But Americans rightfully began to question what vital national security interest we were losing so much for, after the invasion of Iraq—based on debunked premises—and the bloody insurgency that followed.

When the divisive Iraq war finally faded from the headlines at the end of Bush's second term, America decided it was time for a change. President Obama promised to end the Iraq war and win the war in Afghanistan—reflecting the sentiment of the American people who had enough of our post 9/11 wars.

Once Obama was in office he assessed that ending the Iraq was politically popular and any criticism that he received he could deflect to the Bush administration for failing to negotiate a status of forces agreement with the Iraqis. Obama was on the record saying he opposed the war, so Iraq was not his problem. Afghanistan was a different story: while both Obama and the voters were skeptical of rebuilding a society of warring tribes but there was a feeling of unfinished business in Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda's leaders were still at large and the Taliban retained significant influence outside Kabul. So Obama asked the military to come up with a way to fix Afghanistan, but on a timeline; and not just any timeline, but one that he would publicly announce so the American people knew Obama was serious about getting us out.

That was ten years ago. U.S. troops remain as engaged in combat today as they did when Obama said we were beginning to withdraw. Despite Obama's statements, we stayed at war in Afghanistan for the remainder of his presidency. Americans continue fighting and dying in Afghanistan, nearly a decade after we located and killed Usama Bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan.

And short while later, the rise of ISIS forced Obama back into Iraq, with his normal political caveats that made a military victory impossible. U.S. forces were deployed and in harm's way, but there was no plan to win, or to extract ourselves from these wars.

Come 2016. Trump the candidate was not shy about stating the obvious about our post 9/11 wars. Trump was very critical of Obama, which was to be expected for a Republican, but he also turned his ire on Bush, over both wars. Trump pointed out that the foreign policies of the two previous presidents almost indistinguishable. Regardless of who was in the White House, a neoconservative or a globalist Nobel Peace Prize laureate—America was destined to bleed in the Middle East.

Trump's blunt observations resonate with American voters, not least because they are hard to counter: what have we gained from the wars? Other than killing Bin Laden and other key members of Al-Qaeda, we have made minimal progress.

The most obvious response to these criticisms is simple fact that we have not been attacked since launching these wars on anything like the scale of 9/11. The key implication in this argument is that terror attacks against the U.S. would have been planned in Afghanistan if we haven't uprooted Al-Qaeda and that Iraq, unless we removed Saddam, would also plan attacks against the U.S. The terror attacks against the U.S. that we have thwarted since 9/11 came from Yemen and Pakistan, areas where we have deployed minimal forces and used a combination of Special Operations Forces and intelligence operations to strike threats without getting bogged down and overextended.

Once President Trump took office he surrounded himself with experienced generals to fill the gaps in his knowledge foreign policy. Trump tasked the military to

destroy ISIS and get out of Syria. The President's detractors pointed out that he was relying almost solely on General Officers, both active duty and retired for advice on his foreign policy. At the time, these choices were natural: the military has had the lead on foreign policy since 9/11, so the generals were the obvious choice to help Trump get his feet on the ground as a political outsider who overnight became the commander in chief.

But President Trump settled into office, his "America first" policy saw him clash head on with the Department Of Defense establishment and "his generals". The most obvious case was President Trump's December 2018 attempt at withdrawing from Syria that led to his first Secretary of Defense, James Mattis resigning. The clash was inevitable, President Trump's stated policy of crushing ISIS and then leaving ran counter to Mattis's affinity for alliances and process.

The DOD had become accustomed to being able to offer the President policy options in the form of changing a detail of a strategy, but never by telling the President that they could not offer any other options. The DOD was allowed to audit and critique itself; "we are making progress" and "staying the course" are the most common mantras, with the stipulation that more could be accomplished if only more resources were given exclusively to the current strategy.

Trump has opted for using other elements of national power, including the economic power of sanctions, tariffs and trade deals, because the military centric methods of the past two decades have failed. He also places a great deal of faith on executive diplomacy. Trump seeks to cultivate personal relationships with leaders, especially troublesome leaders, to help him avoid conflict. To supplement these methods Trump uses the military as a threat , to encourage the effects of his economic and diplomatic efforts.

Trump taking control of the military and ordering the withdraw from the Turkish border and subsequent deployment of armor to secure the Syrian oil fields caused many in the defense establishment to claim Trump was morally wrong, implying that America had an obligation to remain indefinitely, despite the risk of getting caught in the crossfire between the Kurds and Turkey, a NATO ally.

The logic that we are required to stay and stand by an ally like the Kurds is the same logic that has kept us in Afghanistan for the past 18 years and has us wed to an Iraqi government that is now effectively proxy for Iran. We are smart to enlist the help of local actors who share our tactical goals, such as destroying the Taliban post 9/11 or destroying ISIS, but we are fools to stay beside them after our own goals have been accomplished. Our intelligence services can quietly maintain relationships with key local leaders in the event we need them again, as we did in Afghanistan throughout the 1990s. The idea that we need bases, patrols, a partner force and nightly raids is a myth.

President Trump should follow through on his promise to end our war in Afghanistan there is nothing in that place worthy of anymore of our blood . In Syria Trump should use the oil to reward the Kurds, this will give the Kurds leverage in their negotiations with Assad; the Kurds returning to Assad's orbit was always inevitable. Once this is done, Trump should get our forces out of harm's way so Assad, Russia and Iran can expend resources they don't have to fight for land that is inconsequential to the U.S.

After nearly two decades of war, executive branch leadership is as foreign of a concept in the Pentagon as leaving a war is. In his own bombastic and unconventional way, Trump has restored the American people's voice in American foreign policy. The American people demand a strong military ready to combat threats to our nation, not stay in endless wars in the backwaters of the world.

Joe Kent is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces Chief Warrant Officer Three. Joe spent over twenty years in Special Operations and completed eleven combat deployments. Joe is also a Gold Star husband; his wife Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent was killed in 2019 conducting Special Operations against ISIS in Syria.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

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