The transition to a new administration has its rituals. As part of them we examine the incoming president’s agenda, and we comment on the outgoing politician’s accomplishments or lack thereof. I pay little attention to this. Our presidential campaigns are so long that nothing in an incoming president’s plans that should be a surprise. Let’s wait to see what is achieved and not depend on mere hopes or fears. The assessments of the outgoing president always have a partisan tinge, and since I have lived through the administration, I can make up my own mind about the merits of the outgoing president. I especially did not care to hear what Trump said. I assumed that his inevitable and often misleading or untrue boasts would make me angry. I was surprised, then, to hear him say something that was true and even significant: Trump said that he was proud that he was the first president in decades who had not started a new war.
Many Americans may feel that this is a strange boast. We believe that ours is not a war-mongering nation. Oh, yes, occasionally we have to get involved in wars, but only for the great cause of peace, for we are a peace-loving people. Combat, battles, and killings in the name of the United Sates are the exception for us. Right?
I then looked at a Wikipedia page titled “List of wars involving the United States.” The list begins with the Revolution and continues to the present. Since Trump had claimed that he was the first president without a new war in “decades,” I concentrated on our involvements over the past forty years. Take a guess how many there were. The list had twenty-seven wars in which the United States was involved during those four decades, but, as Trump pointed out, none started during his tenure in office.
You might, like me, doubt our involvement in that many wars during those forty years. The last one listed is the American intervention in Libya (2015-present). I read further and learned that in August 2016 we announced that at the request of the Libyan government we would aid in recapturing the city of Sirte from the Islamic State in Libya. We bombed Sirte from August to December with up to 100 sorties and gave other military support to the Libyan government, which retook Sirte on December 6, 2016. Maybe you are different, but I certainly don’t remember this. However, if some country bombed an American city 100 times over a few months, we would definitely count that as a war. While this was not our biggest war effort, it surely counts as substantial military hostilities.
While being oblivious to the Libyan bombings, however, I had not forgotten about all the conflicts we were involved with. I remembered that we “intervened” in Lebanon and invaded Grenada and Panama in the 1980s. There was the Gulf War of 1990-1991 and a few years later an “intervention” in Somalia. The U.S. was involved with the Bosnian War of 1992-1995 and the Kosovo War of 1998-1999. And, of course, we are all aware of the Afghan War, which started in 2001, and the Iraq War starting in 2003. We are still involved in the Afghan War two decades later, and Iraq is still not at peace. We may not want to recognize it, but our “peaceful” nation has regularly been involved in multiple wars during our lifetimes and throughout our history. It is unusual, apparently, for us to go more than a few years without getting involved in a new war. When Trump says that he is proud of not getting us into another war, it is not mere fanfaronade. (This is word that I have just learned, and I know that I will soon forget it, so I feel compelled to use it while I still retain it. And “fanfaronade” is apt.)
Whatever you may think of Trump’s foreign policy moves, rejoice in the fact that he did not start the equivalent of another Iraq war, the greatest foreign policy blunder of the last generation. He did not have us invade another country under false pretenses that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, untold casualties, and striking numbers of refugees; cost us trillions of dollars; massively increased our national debt; helped cause more instability and terror in the Mideast; and made our country less safe. We still feel the harmful effects of the Iraq war. I find it hard to give any sort of praise to Donald Trump, but I am glad that in the last four years he did not involve us in yet another shooting war.