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Defining Wartime Down

Trump spends Thanksgiving 2019 with US troops at Afghanistan's Bagram Air Force Base (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

The framing of this New York Timesarticle on Trump’s foreign policy and the 2020 election is bizarre and misleading:

As tensions with Iran remain high, Mr. Trump risks becoming the wartime president he claimed he never wanted to be.

Whatever happens with Iran, Trump has been a wartime president since the day he was sworn in. He specifically campaigned as a supporter of the war on ISIS, and he promised to escalate that war once he was in office. He has continued or expanded every war he inherited, and he has threatened to start more than one new one. Trump could stop being a wartime president anytime he chooses, but that is not really what he wants. If news reports can’t even accurately relay these facts to the public, how are Americans going to understand what their government is doing in their name all over the world?

Judging from this article, readers could be forgiven for thinking that the U.S. is not currently at war anywhere in the world. This is how we get the normalization of open-ended warfare in multiple countries. Americans are being led to believe that the U.S. isn’t really at war even though our military is engaged in hostilities in many other countries and drone warfare has dramatically increased under the current administration. The U.S. has not experienced genuine peacetime in decades, but according to the new debased standards the U.S. is not at war unless there are hundreds of thousands of troops involved. This is defining war and wartime down. This creates a dangerous situation where the government wages war but escapes public scrutiny and accountability. The executive claims sweeping powers because of supposed security threats and expects critics to shut up because it might create division that would encourage adversaries, and then it gets to pretend that the ceaseless warfare that it is waging isn’t actually war at all.

In just the last week and a half, there have been new American casualties in Afghanistan and a lethal Al-Shabab attack on a Kenyan base that the U.S. uses in its ongoing war in Somalia. One American soldier and two contractors died in the attack on the Kenyan base. These are the casualties of the wars that most of us ignore, and these wars continue in part because we pay no attention to them. Trump faces little pressure to end the wars he has escalated when the most common and most inaccurate criticism of his foreign policy is that he is presiding over U.S. withdrawals.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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