Donald Trump has been telling us since the first day of his presidency that the American president should no longer be the leader of the free world and that he personally has no interest in the job. This month, he made good on his words by unleashing chaos in northern Syria.
Trump’s actions empowered American adversaries ranging from the Islamic State militant group to Iran, Russia, Turkey and the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and abandoned the local Syrian forces, especially Kurdish ones, who fought side by side with U.S. troops against ISIS. In defending his decision, Trump insisted America has nothing at stake in Syria and can let others handle an Islamic State insurgency.
This ingratitude not only will do lasting damage to America’s reputation as a trustworthy ally, it also rejects the importance of American foreign goals more than seven decades in the making: containing an expansionist Russia; supporting allies, particularly those most likely to embrace democracy and human rights; and orienting U.S. policy away from the pre-WWII fiction that Americans at home will be safe from threats abroad — whether China, Iran or ISIS — if the U.S. would only retreat from the world.
Even one of the president’s staunchest political allies, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, felt moved to personally rebuke Trump on this count Tuesday by introducing a resolution calling on him to rescind his order to leave Syria because of how deeply it contravenes the American political inheritance that both parties have nurtured until now.
“If we Americans care at all about the post-World War II international system that has sustained an unprecedented era of peace, prosperity and technological development, we must recognize that we are its indispensable nation,” he noted ahead of introducing the resolution, which coincided with the end of a cease-fire whose expiration will likely result in more Kurds being killed. “The most important thing the Senate can do right now is speak clearly and reaffirm the core principles that unite most of us, Republicans and Democrats, about the proper role for America in Syria, the Middle East and the world.”
Despite the businessman-in-chief’s assertion that this role provides the United States with little benefit and a lot of human and economic costs, the reality is the opposite. In fact, the burdens America assumes by providing this global leadership generate a tremendous return on investment. Since the end of WWII, presidents right, left and center have understood that U.S. power and wealth can only be sustained by assuming great responsibility. As a consequence, under America’s watch, there has been no third catastrophic war, economic well-being has surged at home and abroad, and liberal democracy has spread— albeit unevenly — to places where it was once unthinkable.