Andrew Bacevich takes a hard look at the actual record of U.S. foreign policy:
Yet the issue that cries out for attention is not the danger to which Freedom Man has exposed the Kurds or the damage to American credibility. It’s Freedom Man himself that deserves a fresh look.
If he ever existed, he has long since become a menace, both to America and to others. Indulging the delusions of journalists like Bret Stephens makes it that much more difficult for Americans to see themselves as they actually are and their country as it actually is. In the meantime, the havoc that Freedom Man commits in our name will continue.
Bacevich is responding to another tedious column by Bret Stephens, but he could just as easily be responding to any number of pundits and journalists that have treated Trump’s recent moves in Syria as a world-historical calamity. Stephens talks about “the regional catastrophe that is Donald Trump’s retreat in Syria,” but it is hard to take these complaints seriously from someone who has never said one word about the horror engulfing Yemen or any of the other countries that have been harmed through U.S. meddling. There are quite a few hawks who have looked at genuine regional catastrophes caused by aggressive and interventionist policies in Iraq and Yemen, and they have shrugged or cheered. The moment that they think they can pin something on a “retreat,” they are only too happy to raise the alarm. Left unmentioned in Stephens’ column is that many of the “moderate” rebels that interventionists once championed have become the persecutors of the Kurds in common cause with their Turkish patrons. These are the same people that our interventionists wanted to empower a few years ago, and now they are committing atrocities against the partner that they pretend to care about now. Forgive me if I find it hard to ignore their cynicism.
Why were U.S. forces in Syria to begin with? Because they were sent there illegally to fight a group that had emerged out of the aftermath of the Iraq war, another illegal war that the Bret Stephenses of the world supported and defended for many years. Had the U.S. refrained from invading Iraq, there would never have been an ISIS in the first place. If the U.S. had chosen to stay out of Syria five years ago, none of this would be happening now. Trump has handled everything horribly, and his foreign policy is a nightmare, but that should not let other interventionists off the hook for putting the U.S. in this position in the first place. They are desperate to absolve themselves of responsibility for the disaster that is our absurd Syria policy, but they own it. If U.S. policy in Syria today is a disgrace, the people that insisted on involving the U.S. in Syria over the last seven years share in the blame for that.
That makes Stephens’ cloying rhetoric about “Freedom Man” all the more obnoxious. We are not perceived as “Freedom Man” by the inhabitants of the countries our government sanctions and bombs, and there is no reason we would be. Yemenis see the U.S. as enablers and supporters of the atrocities committed against them, and they have every reason to think that. Stephens isn’t concerned about any of that, because he doesn’t even pretend that Yemeni lives matter. Our government has been supporting the mass starvation of millions of people in Yemen for more than four years, but somehow hawks never count that as a “regional catastrophe.” The ongoing U.S. support for Saudi coalition war crimes doesn’t elicit the slightest protest because Stephens has no problem with helping the Saudis to wreck and starve Yemen. There is nothing wrong with criticizing Trump’s incompetent and harmful actions in Syria, but U.S. policy in Yemen has done far greater harm over a longer period of time and deserves to be condemned even more strongly. The reality is that the U.S. has been doing far more harm than good in the Middle East for a very long time, and Trump and Stephens are on the same side in backing destructive policies that undermine U.S. interests and hurt innocent people all across the region.