Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Endless War and Our Excessive Use of Force

We need to recognize that our hyper-militarized foreign policy achieves nothing except to foment more conflict that kills and displaces innocent people in huge numbers.
no bombs

Edward Wong considers the growing backlash in the U.S. against the forever war, and he reviews Trump’s record to show how he has continued and expanded U.S. military engagement overseas:

Despite his denunciations of endless wars, Mr. Trump’s policies and actions have gone in the opposite direction. In December, he ordered 4,500 troops to the Middle East, adding to the 50,000 already there. In the last two years, the American military dropped bombs and missiles on Afghanistan at a record pace. In April, Mr. Trump vetoed a bipartisan congressional resolution to end American military involvement in Yemen’s devastating civil war.

Perhaps most significant, Mr. Trump withdrew in 2018 from a landmark nuclear containment deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions, setting off the chain of events that led to the killing of General Suleimani and a retaliatory missile strike by Iran that caused traumatic brain injuries to at least 64 American service members.

This is a pretty good summary of the damage Trump has done, but it understates how bad it has been. In addition to the buildup of troops and the continuation of illegal, unauthorized military involvement in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, Trump has also presided over a sharp increase in drone strikes, and he has loosened the rules of engagement in all U.S. bombing campaigns. In the past week, we learned that the U.S. dropped more bombs on Afghanistan in 2019 than in any previous year of the war:

American aircraft released 7,423 munitions in the country in 2019, according to figures published Monday by U.S. Air Forces Central Command. Coalition aircraft flew nearly 8,800 sorties during the period, over a quarter of which carried out strikes.

The tally surpasses the previous record set last year when 7,362 munitions were released and comes amid ongoing discussion between American and Taliban officials aimed at ending America’s longest war.

Trump is sometimes described as “reluctant” to use force, but as these numbers show the U.S. military has been dropping bombs and launching missiles in even greater numbers under Trump. If anything, the president is only too eager to order attacks on other states when there is no justification for them, as the illegal attacks on Syria and the illegal assassination of Soleimani should make clear. Trump uses force when he doesn’t have to, he uses more of it than is required, and he rewards the men who use it to commit war crimes. His foreign policy is one of rejecting restraint. He doesn’t end the endless wars because doing so would require the kind of diplomatic engagement that he abhors, and he doesn’t end them because he is a militarist. The president is continuing and adding to the long, ugly record of our excessive use of force overseas.

To change that, the U.S. won’t just need different leadership, but we will also need an entirely different way of thinking about the U.S. role in the world. We need to stop viewing and treating other countries as if they are our bombing ranges. We need to recognize that our hyper-militarized foreign policy achieves nothing except to foment more conflict that kills and displaces innocent people in huge numbers. We need to insist that our government resorts to force only as a last resort, and then we need to make our leaders pay a political price if they start or join unnecessary wars. If we are satisfied with empty slogans instead of genuine peace, empty slogans and ceaseless war will be what we get.