Trump on Afghanistan and Syria: ‘Great Nations Do Not Fight Endless Wars’

By Patrick Goodenough | February 6, 2019 | 4:24am EST
President Trump delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

( – President Trump on Tuesday underscored his determination to bring home U.S. troops from Syria and to seek a political settlement in Afghanistan in line with the “new approach” he pledged when campaigning for the White House, declaring that “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”

Trump dedicated a large part of the foreign policy portion of his State of the Union address to the various challenges in and around the Middle East – including the need to “pursue a possible political solution to this long and bloody conflict” in Afghanistan; to withdraw troops from Syria after the campaign against ISIS; while facing up to Iran’s malign behavior at home and abroad.

“Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years,” he said. “In Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly 7,000 American heroes have given their lives. More than 52,000 Americans have been badly wounded. We have spent more than $7 trillion dollars in fighting wars in the Middle East.”

“As a candidate for president, I loudly pledged a new approach: Great nations do not fight endless wars.”

Trump said the “unmatched valor” with which U.S. forces have fought in Afghanistan has made it possible to seek a political settlement, with talks underway with various groups including the Taliban.

“As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troops’ presence and focus on counter-terrorism,” he said. “We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement – but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace.”

On the 2,000 troops in Syria, Trump said that as the U.S. works with allies to destroy remnants of ISIS, “it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.”

Hours before the speech, the U.S. Senate, with strong bipartisan support, passed legislation that included an amendment voicing concern that “the precipitous withdrawal” of U.S. troops from Afghanistan or Syria “could put at risk hard-won gains” against terrorist groups.

On Iran, Trump said his administration “has acted decisively to confront the world’s leading state sponsor of terror,” withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal and restoring sanctions.

“We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ and threatens genocide against the Jewish people,” he said. “We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed. With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.”

Elsewhere, Trump addressed challenges relating to Russia, Venezuela and North Korea.

He reiterated his reasoning for withdrawing from the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, saying Russia had “repeatedly violated its terms” (by deploying a land-based cruise missile which a range that is banned under the treaty).

He also held out the possibility that an alternative treaty could be negotiated, widening the parties beyond the U.S. and Russia, to include China and others. (Beijing, most of whose nuclear and conventional missiles fall within the range prohibited by the INF Treaty, has long opposed its “multilateralization.”)

And if an alternative treaty could not be negotiated, Trump added, then the U.S. would “outspend and out-innovate all others by far” – evidently a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pledges to develop powerful new missiles as a response to the envisaged INF collapse.

Trump confirmed plans to hold a second summit with Kim Jong Un, in Vietnam on February 27-28, in a continuing quest for “peace on the Korean peninsula.”

Highlighting again the fact that Pyongyang has stopped nuclear and missile testing, he said, “If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.”

On Venezuela, Trump recalled his administration’s recognition of interim president Juan Guaidó, and condemned “the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.”

He used the opportunity to declare that the United States “will never be a socialist country,” saying that “America was founded on liberty and independence – not government coercion, domination and control.”

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