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Making America Great Again Means Ending the Wars

“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” declared President Donald Trump to bipartisan applause belied by many of the assembled lawmakers’ actual voting records.

The State of the Union address is often where presidential promises go to die. This is especially true once at least one house of Congress is controlled by the opposition party. Let us hope Trump’s stand against forever war—unmistakable, if not as bold as I’d originally hoped [1]—is an exception to the rule.

“Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years,” Trump said in the highlight of his speech. “In Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly 7,000 American heroes have given their lives. More than 52,000 Americans have been badly wounded. We have spent more than $7 trillion in the Middle East.”

Trump has cited these sad statistics many times. In recent weeks, he appears to have renewed his commitment to acting on them. It was therefore noteworthy he repeated his calls to withdraw from Syria and begin to draw down troops in Afghanistan, our country’s longest war.

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“As a candidate for president, I loudly pledged a new approach,” Trump said. And here it was: Declare victory and bring our courageous men and women home.

Trump crowed that the United States and its allies against ISIS “have liberated virtually all of that territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty monsters.” The difference is what he said next.  “Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.”

In Afghanistan, Trump pledged talks with the Taliban that would have caused a Republican meltdown under former President Barack Obama. There too Trump said that “the hour has come to at least try for peace.”

Trump called for bipartisanship throughout his speech, but didn’t flinch from taking shots at the Democrats. He condemned socialism, once again in fashion among progressives. He made note of comments by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam—currently in the headlines for other reasons—in defense of late-term abortions bordering on infanticide. He was booed as he warned of the migrant caravans massing at the southern border.

While Trump credited the economic boom to the enactment of the agenda he shared with congressional Republicans—“historic” tax cuts and deregulation, energy innovation, and the repeal of the penalty enforcing Obamacare’s individual mandate, making House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hesitate to applaud low unemployment figures—his wedge issues against the Democrats were more distinctively Trumpian.

Trump defended his tariffs and urged Congress to ratify the trade pact with which he would “repeal and replace” NAFTA. He called for a robust infrastructure program and efforts to tamp down on drug prices that would only only partially be endorsed by free-market conservatives. He said he would pull out of the Middle East and guard the southern border.

The president’s apparently ad libbed endorsement of “record” legal immigration isn’t exactly what some of his more populist supporters want, though it is consistent with his rhetoric on the issue dating back to the early days of his campaign. He has given serious restrictionists a place at the table but has mostly doubled down on the politically smart yet oversimplified Republican talking point that the only immigration problem that America faces stems from its frequent illegality.

Even on foreign policy, Trump’s appeals to the nation’s war-weariness sat uneasily alongside his hawkishness on Iran and perhaps Venezuela, his junking of arms control treaties, and the unmentioned atrocities in Yemen. It is clear, however, that Trump would prefer to go down in history as a dealmaker—even a peacemaker.

“If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea,” Trump said. “Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one.”

Trump had clever lines designed to make even the sea of liberal women dressed in white in protest stand to applaud, including his tribute to their unprecedented numbers in Congress (thanks in no small part to the Resistance). But foreign policy and ending the wars gives him the best chance at a meaningful bipartisan achievement as the Democratic Party’s center of gravity shifts from Hillary Clinton to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and perhaps even Tulsi Gabbard.

Intense opposition to Trump has liberal hawks flying again too. And Trump almost certainly had more leverage to accomplish his less conventionally Republican goals when he first took office than now, when Democrats think they have him on the ropes and many GOP insiders agree.

Nevertheless, Trump made the case that renewing America’s greatness means summoning it to peace. That could be a winning message for a Republican candidate in 2020 too.

W. James Antle III is editor of The American Conservative.

21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "Making America Great Again Means Ending the Wars"

#1 Comment By PAX On February 6, 2019 @ 4:44 am

Trump made some very good points.
He made some good points, however, he had to pray at the wall. Points of note:
Gabby is scary to the war party. A female veteran that wants to end wars. Great to see the crew of the USS Cole honored. How about the crew of the USS Liberty? On whose behalf, mainly, did we spend these trillions of dollars and lose thousands of lives.

#2 Comment By peter mcloughlin On February 6, 2019 @ 5:29 am

Some erudite reader might correct me if I am wrong, but the core interests of the US are in the Americas, going back 200 years to the birth of the Monroe Doctrine, where its own territorial integrity was potentially under threat. The lesson from history is that nations/civilizations pursue national interests to the point of undermining them: creating the very circumstances they seek to avoid (for more on this: [2] ). Washington has legitimate concerns what goes on in its ‘backyard’, as we see in the developing crisis over Venezuela. Yet it has only limited control of how events will pan out. One warning sign is the two major regional powers, Brazil and Mexico, taking opposing sides in the dispute. Not to mention the possible involvement of Russia and China, with billions of dollars in loans to Caracas. The consequences of a Latin American Spring could be far more damaging to US interests than the Arab Spring. The ghosts of history need to be listened to.

#3 Comment By WorkingClass On February 6, 2019 @ 5:44 am

This Deplorable finally gave up on Trump when he changed his other mind regarding withdrawal from Syria. Trump talks peace but makes war.

#4 Comment By mrscracker On February 6, 2019 @ 6:25 am

I thought the timing of his remarks on infanticide, directly following those about family leave legislation, was great too.
But yes, he made much sense on war last night.

#5 Comment By Stephen J. On February 6, 2019 @ 6:27 am

Very interesting article, but let us give some recognition to:

The “Achievements” of “Our Leaders”

[3]

#6 Comment By Michael Kenny On February 6, 2019 @ 6:58 am

The fly in the author’s ointment is that what made America “great” was precisely those foreign wars. Ending them may make America a better place but it certailly wont make it great, whether “again” or otherwise.

#7 Comment By TomG On February 6, 2019 @ 8:58 am

Nice happy thoughts, Mr. Antle, but Trump has no concept of what peace actually resembles let alone what it takes to bear fruit.

And while Trump quotes 7000 dead and 52000 wounded let us remember 6000 veterans are committing suicide every year. A national scandal that exemplifies just how pathetic our moves toward peace really are.

Finally, “perhaps Venezuela?” I don’t know what else Mr. Antle needs beyond the years of meddling there and Trump’s Pence/Pompeo/Bolton/Abrams clown car driving the Guido fiat to awaken us to another Lybia disaster in the making.

#8 Comment By No Thanks On February 6, 2019 @ 9:09 am

Making America Great Again means a lot of things. It means rebuilding American infrastructure. It means paying down the national debt. In foreign policy it means getting Israel and Saudi Arabia off our back and rebuilding our alliances with old friends. It means getting control of our borders and deporting criminal illegals.

I didn’t hear much about any of that from Trump. His speech was all about starting new wars in the Middle East, doing favors for foreign countries, and other stuff that means stiffing the American people.

#9 Comment By Anne Mendoza On February 6, 2019 @ 10:31 am

If Trump made a case for summoning the nation to peace in the SOTU address, I sure didn’t hear it “alongside his hawkishness on Iran and perhaps Venezuela, his junking of arms control treaties, and the unmentioned atrocities in Yemen.” It is also passing strange that a nascent peacemaker would walk back his threat to pull the military out of Syria, make another to keep it in Iraq to spy on Iran, intensify every conflict he inherited, and surround himself with the most bellicose of hawks who include an Iran Contra alumnus for Pete’s sake.

#10 Comment By here and there On February 6, 2019 @ 10:43 am

Michael Kenny is right: how can America measure it greatness without an inordinately active, resplendently robust military?

Winning wars = greatness, therefore…

#11 Comment By PAX On February 6, 2019 @ 10:45 am

PS
Senator Ron Paul – apples do not fall far from the tree
[4]

#12 Comment By John S On February 6, 2019 @ 1:28 pm

No, the highlight of the address was Trump telling the Dems that he would sign their legislation in exchange for ending the investigations.

#13 Comment By One Guy On February 6, 2019 @ 1:34 pm

I’m sure Trump will follow through on his promise to end the Middle East wars just as surely as he followed through on his promises to immediately start building the wall and investigate Hillary.

#14 Comment By CLW On February 6, 2019 @ 1:58 pm

“If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea,” Trump said. “Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one.”

Witness Trump the Peacemaker in all his glory: he inherits an extremely difficult and dangerous situation regarding North Korea, makes it much worse by engaging in reckless, adolescent one-upmanship with Kim, and then (with help) does enough damage control to (hopefully) return the situation to a pre-Trump danger level.

#15 Comment By Stephen J. On February 6, 2019 @ 2:06 pm

“Ending the Wars” is an admirable suggestion. Unfortunately I believe Trump has surrounded himself with warmongers that I believe are salivating to have a war with Russia and Iran. Their actions if carried to the bitter end could be the end of us all. See links below.

[5]

[6]

[7]

[8]

[9]

#16 Comment By Rossbach On February 6, 2019 @ 3:52 pm

“[The President] was booed as he warned of the migrant caravans massing at the southern border”.

This is no more than what we would expect from members of a political party whose only chance of remaining in power is to import more low-information, government-dependent voters from abroad.

#17 Comment By Sid Finster On February 6, 2019 @ 3:55 pm

America was great at one time, long before it was en empire intent on foreign conquest.

If Michael Kenny is so intent on maintaining American “greatness”, I suggest that the US military invade his homeland, his obsessive interest in getting a war with Russia notwithstanding.

#18 Comment By Lee Newman On February 6, 2019 @ 4:36 pm

This man is not fit for this position.

#19 Comment By EliteCommInc. On February 6, 2019 @ 7:27 pm

“Washington has legitimate concerns what goes on in its ‘backyard’, as we see in the developing crisis over Venezuela.”

There is not crisis in Venezuela. The only crisis is the one those advancing regime change are manufacturing, including the president.

It’s nonsense from top to bottom.

#20 Comment By David Smith On February 7, 2019 @ 11:57 am

Excuse a brief venture into philosophy. If our “brave troops” and our “courageous men and women” fighting in the Middle East are “heroes,” are their counterparts in ISIS and the Taliban also heroes for fighting and dying for what they believe in? Were the German soldiers at Stalingrad heroes, fighting to make their country great again? Were the crew of the Enola Gay heroes for dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima? Was General Custer a hero at the Little Big Horn? Were Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull also heroes in the same battle? What constitutes heroism? The willingness to fight and die? The nature of the cause? How do we decide?

#21 Comment By Harvey Taylor On February 7, 2019 @ 1:05 pm

What did D Day have to do with the state of the nation today? Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem? Touting the Jew who liberated Dachau? Forgetting the USS Liberty? The assassination of JFK, Nuclear armed Israel. Current energy production,should we export most of it or conserve? More immigrants from where? Who wrote this speech?