The Corner

National Security & Defense

ISIS and Us

Raqqa, Syria, August 2017 (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters)

In the hearts of the Right, Lindsey Graham is sometimes up and sometimes down. But he’s almost always candid. In early December, commenting on the reaction of Trump officials to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, he said, “If they were in a Democratic administration, I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia.” Later in the month, commenting on President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from Syria, he said, “If Obama had done this, we’d be all over him as Republicans.”


Trump declared, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria.” That was on December 19. Two days ago, four Americans, among others, were killed in Syria by ISIS. The Pentagon has named three of the four: Jonathan R. Farmer, Shannon M. Kent, and Scott A. Wirtz.

There is a debate: Is ISIS our enemy? If we leave them alone, will they leave us alone? After 9/11, Pat Buchanan (whom Trump has been quoting lately) said, “They’re over here because we’re over there.” That is a common belief on the right, and it has traditionally been strong on the left.

Last month, Stephen Miller, the president’s aide, defended Trump’s decision on Syria as follows: “Let’s put America first. Let’s not spill American blood to fight the enemies of other countries.” For his own part, Trump tweeted, “Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work. Time to come home & rebuild. #MAGA.”

Maybe ISIS will leave us alone, if we leave them alone. But maybe not. Also, the world is interconnected, both pleasantly and unpleasantly. Opponents of our engagement abroad speak of “the never-ending war,” or “never-ending wars.” The thing is, you may not be able to decide when a war ends. Others have a say in it too, unfortunately.

In August 2017, James Mattis, then the defense secretary, spoke to troops about our fight against terrorists. He said, “We’ll fight alongside our friends and allies, and we’re gonna keep right on fightin’ until they’re sick of us and leave us alone.” That strikes me as realism.

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