As Donald J. Trump climbed up the polls, and into the Oval Office, to the bafflement of most, and the cheers of some, there was deluded optimism and melodramatic horror freely expressed about his plans once sworn in. The antiwar-cum-xenophobia demonstrated by many self-proclaimed isolationists meant that Trump’s bizarre policy collections had piqued their interest. But even with the relatively low standards that that mentality suggests–less war, perhaps, more domestic misery, certainly, especially when it comes to the lives of undocumented immigrants–Trump will likely fail. The non-interventionists who value the lives of immigrants, and the freedom of all people to live without police intervention remain unsurprised at Trump’s failures of international peace, even as they scorn the neocons just as much as the isolationists do.
America has been at war since 2001. In other ways, America has been at war nearly nonstop since its founding. As in so many other nation-states, the native population had to be culled and brutalized so that Westerners could flourish. Once that was mostly complete by the late 19th century, America eyed Cuba and the Philippines, and engaged in savage, now-forgotten wars in order to colonize there. World Wars one and two are defended by many people, especially the latter, but the savagery with which America fought even its most justified enemies spoke to its disinterest in a moral highground based on anything besides whatever the US says it right at whatever particular time. Korea and Vietnam, various Middle East scuffles and bombings, coups and interventions, not to mention the two decades spent trampling Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, and other places where terrorists occasionally lurk, all of this adds up to a searing black mark on the credibility of the shining city on the hill. Except that among the powerful and the silent majority in middle America, it doesn’t really diminish much of anything.
American wars have been on autopilot for at least the past decade. Mass outrage, most prominently seen during the Vietnam war, is the exceptional response to interventions abroad. And even in the “come on people now/smile on you brother”era, that war wasn’t stopped until two million Vietnamese, nearly 60,000 Americans, and countless Cambodian and Laos citizens were dead. At best, then, outrage as the life and death threat of the draft hangs over American 19-year-olds’ heads, can lead to the stopping of a war after a decade.
How to get out of the death grapple that is the war on terror remains to be seen. Or, perhaps it won’t be. In the grimmest, most borderline conspiratorial interpretations of the post-9/11 world, there is no reason for the US to ever get out of this war against a tactic, an extreme interpretation of a religion, against anyone who consider themselves against the US, and will engage in violence towards that end.
We may or may not have moved away from full-scale invasions like Iraq in 2003. However, Libya and Afghanistan have been destabilized plenty. And the residents of half a dozen other countries now find it necessary to accept the presence of silent robots hovering above them, Hellfire missiles at the ready. The American people are easily exhausted by wars, but they are also easily frightened into them. Letting a few troops, then a few more, then a few drones handle things is the easiest way to keep them distracted, but feeling safe enough.
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