Once upon a time, the American way of war was all about winning. Today it has come to mean something quite different. Once the United States fought wars to end them. Today it seemingly fights wars to perpetuate them.
To his credit, Trump has apparently intuited that there’s something amiss here. For this Commander-in-Chief, any war that drags on and on is by definition a failure.
Yet few members of the present day national security establishment are inclined to see things that way. They have come to accept long wars as tolerable — indeed, to appropriate Sen. McConnell’s phrase, as concrete manifestations of ‘American leadership’. Keeping US forces in Syria, uncomfortably wedged in between Turks, Kurds, the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and the remnants of Isis, with Russia and Iran lurking in the wings, apparently satisfies this conception of what it means to ‘lead’.
Trump ain’t buying. Having suckered plenty of others during his career as a highflying real estate developer, he knows a bum deal when he sees one. Yet the problem with Trump — OK, one of the many problems — is that he is clueless about how to translate his aversion to endless war into anything akin to a plausible basis for policy. He possesses neither the intellectual capacity nor the attention span needed to devise an approach to ‘American leadership’ that is not centered on the continuous use or threatened use of force. So while Trump’s anti-war instincts have considerable merit, he is incapable of translating instinct into anything remotely approximating an alternative strategy.