Is Trump an unstable warmonger who is going to revive torture and blow the Middle East to smithereens as soon as he finds the giant red button, or is he Tehran Don, a craven peacenik who licks the boots of everyone from Erdogan to Kim Jong Un? Is he undermining NATO by calmly suggesting that Europeans who mock us for our inadequate welfare state while showering their own citizens with weeks of paid vacation and excellent health should maybe contribute more to their own defense? Or is he some kind of inhuman monster for refusing to take arms on behalf of an obscure communist guerilla front half a world away? Even now, I thought, we were in the middle of a worldwide agony fest about the rise of nationalism, but apparently the national self-determination of the Kurdish people is something for which Americans should be willing to die. Why, exactly? The mind reels.
Looking at the actual responses of the 2020 candidates to Trump’s action — or lack of action — in Syria is instructive. It immediately becomes clear that very few of his opponents actually think he is wrong. No one says we should leave the troops in Syria or that the territorial aspirations of the Kurds are worth fighting for. Instead, we have Elizabeth Warren saying “We should bring our troops home, but we need to do so in a way that protects our security,” which is just empty tone policing. (Does she think we have become less secure in the last 72 or so hours? How?) Warren’s remarks are fairly representative of her party. Practically the only people who seem to disagree with Trump substantively are conservatives, who have the dubious honor of being far more consistent in their idiotic foreign policy views over the years. (Like my colleague Damon Linker, I include Joe Biden in the latter group.)