By Daniel Larison
March 3, 2017
The American Conservative
Andrew Bacevich comments on Trump’s address to Congress:
For U.S. military leaders, for the national security apparatus as a whole, for defense contractors, and for the Congress itself, Trump was the bearer of good news. As commander-in-chief, he will observe the agreement forged by his immediate predecessors: When it comes to war and basic U.S. national security policy, there will be no accountability and no awkward questions.
There will be no inquiry into the misjudgments and failures that have saddled future generations with a six-trillion-dollar bill. There will be no postmortem. Except at the most trivial level, there will be no learning. There will, however, be more war.
Trump scarcely mentioned our ongoing wars and said nothing about the reasons for any of them. If his predecessors used absurd ideological justifications for unnecessary wars that were soon discredited, Trump didn’t even bother to offer any justification. America’s longest war in Afghanistan received no attention at all, and virtually no one in Congress or the media even noticed. The shameful U.S. role in enabling the wrecking and starving of Yemen naturally went unmentioned, just as it has been carefully neglected by almost everyone in Washington. Even though that role is likely to increase in the months ahead, the public isn’t going to be alerted to this, and most members of Congress have nothing to say about it.
Trump did talk about “extinguishing” ISIS, but except for generic references to working with allies he had nothing to say about how or at what cost that would be achieved. There was certainly no hint that Trump thinks the war needs its own Congressional authorization, and so the illegal war in Iraq and Syria will continue without any debate or vote in Congress. That suits the vast majority of the members very well, since they evidently have no desire to go on the record one way or the other. Obama bestowed on Trump a legacy of waging unauthorized wars, and he demonstrated that neither Congress nor the public cares very much if the president starts and escalates wars on his own. Perversely, this is the one area where Trump most needs to be restrained and checked by his opponents in Congress, and it is the one where he has so far encountered the least resistance.
Bacevich found the exploitation of Ryan Owens’ death to be as distasteful as I did. He saw it as a symptom of the larger problem with our political leaders:
I found myself squirming at the way that Trump and members of Congress collaborated in exploiting the memory of a recently deceased U.S. service member. They used a grieving widow for their own purposes.
Yet the moment captured something essential about where we find ourselves today—political leaders who make a show of respecting those who fight on our behalf while neglecting their own most fundamental responsibilities. I don’t know whether to attribute that neglect to cynicism, corruption, moral cowardice, or simply an absence of imagination. But I do know that it’s contemptible.
It is contemptible, but unfortunately it will continue for as long as the public tolerates such shoddy leaders that shirk their duties while sending Americans to fight in unnecessary and unwinnable wars.