A pattern is starting to emerge here. Politicians in Washington keep registering as 180 out from the thinking and priorities of the American people, when it comes to the national security of the United States.
I wrote about this on Tuesday, after Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, claimed that security for the territorial borders of the United States is not “primary to [the] mission” of our armed forces. In his view, “other needs in the world” are a higher priority for the use of the American military.
Those familiar with my writing on security and geopolitics know I am anything but an isolationist. On many occasions I’ve been dismissed as a “neocon” by some Trump supporters and Tea Party folks. I don’t write from a perspective of wanting to pull back all American overseas infrastructure, or draw down our influence abroad, abandon our allies, and jeopardize international stability (any more than it already has been jeopardized by years of flawed policies).
So keep that in mind as I point out what the U.S. Senate just demonstrated on Thursday. In a remarkable vote of 68-23, the Senate approved Mitch McConnell’s amendment to a larger Middle East policy bill: an amendment that “warns against a troop drawdown in Syria and Afghanistan.”
Says The Hill:
The amendment warns that “the precipitous [sic] withdrawal” of U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan “could put at risk hard-won gains and United States national security.”
Now, as it happens, I agree with this assessment. Withdrawal for withdrawal’s sake, without achieving or sustaining a better end-state, is not the best course. There are reasons to be concerned that Trump’s abrupt announcement of a Syrian withdrawal back in December, and his signals that a significant drawdown is likely in Afghanistan, are not elements of an orderly strategic vision.
There’s a big deficit here – vision, purpose, strategy – and it needs addressing. What’s interesting, however, is how remarkably unified the Senate is on the point that U.S. troops simply must stay in Syria and Afghanistan.
Merely keeping them there doesn’t address the big deficit. The elements of the larger Middle East policy bill don’t address it either: the bill is just a package of policy tools. It’s not a bad package, by any means, but it also isn’t a “vision thing.”
The Senate voted overwhelmingly 74 to 19 Monday to advance to open debate on a Middle East policy bill that includes fresh sanctions on Syria. The Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act wraps together five bills into one package. It includes new sanctions against Syria’s central bank and individuals providing support for the Syrian government. It boosts military support for Israel and Jordan, two US allies that are Syria’s neighbors. And makes it easier for states and localities to approve laws to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
I endorse each one of these measures. I’m not opposed at all to what the Senate favors here. What jumps out at me is how unified the chamber is in comparison to its deep divide over the main national security issue preoccupying the American people, which is the flood of migrants – 2,000 a day at last count – being apprehended attempting to sneak across our southern border (often to then be simply released into the U.S.), and the unknown number of migrants who succeed in getting in.
Americans don’t have overwhelming unity on what to do about troops in Syria and Afghanistan. But the Senate does. Conversely, Americans overwhelmingly favor having better border security, which at a minimum will look like “way fewer migrants being able to sneak into the country illegally.”
Partisans insist on their favorite polls, showing either that practically everyone wants a wall, or practically no one does (polls show both, if we accept them at face value). But if you take the “wall” question pe se out of it, the desire for better border security and concern about illegal migration are majority issues, and the majority (a) wants better security, and (b) is concerned about illegal migration.
Trump got elected because the public is not indifferent about this, and does not prefer to see immigration laws constantly broken, and the border under siege.
But the Senate is utterly unable to agree on the border security issue. That’s the reason why a Republican Congress couldn’t “git ‘er done” in the last two years. Legislation favored by Trump, which the House passed on three occasions in 2017 and 2018, couldn’t reach cloture in the Senate, because of the sharp divide on border security.
America has entered a strange time, when it is so easy for federal politicians to agree on keeping troops deployed overseas without a strategic vision to guide their employment, but they can’t agree at all on something as basic as security for our nation’s actual, literal territorial borders.