Trump says US will not fight 'endless wars,' blasts Iran

Trump said: "We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ and threatens genocide against the Jewish people.”
Thursday 07/02/2019
Foreign policy almost forgotten. Trump delivers the State of the Union address, alongside Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, February 5. (AFP)
Foreign policy almost forgotten. Trump delivers the State of the Union address, alongside Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, February 5. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump downplayed the Middle East and foreign affairs in his State of the Union address amid signals that his foreign policy will face heightened scrutiny by Democratic members of Congress who control the US House of Representatives.

Trump did not address foreign affairs until more than an hour into his 80-minute address February 5. The annual presidential message to Congress generally focuses on domestic policies but Trump spoke briefly about the Middle East, repeating his call to withdraw US military forces from Syria.

“Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years. 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 in the Middle East,” Trump said.

“As a candidate for president, I pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars,” Trump added, receiving wide applause. The phrase “endless war” has been used by liberals in the United States who opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Trump said that when he took office in 2017, the Islamic State (ISIS) “controlled more than 20,000 square miles (52,000 sq.km) in Iraq and Syria. Today, we have liberated virtually all of that territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty killers.”

Trump’s comment was an acknowledgment that ISIS remained in small pockets of Iraq and Syria and had not been “defeated” as he asserted in December when he announced the withdrawal of the approximately 2,000 US troops from northern Syria.

Trump stood by his withdrawal plan. “Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home,” he said to applause.

Trump spoke of his decision last May to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear accord signed by his predecessor President Barack Obama and reinstate economic sanctions.

“We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ and threatens genocide against the Jewish people,” Trump 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.”

Shortly before the State of the Union address, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that he had filled the long-vacant position of US envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. The position, which was created in 2004, had been unfilled since Trump took office in January 2017, drawing criticism from the American Jewish community and leaders of Congress. The appointment of Elan Carr, a former prosecutor and candidate for Congress, was widely praised.

US Representative Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, before Trump’s speech vowed to “reassert Congress’s role” over foreign policy. “We’ve given away jurisdiction to the executive branch. I think it’s time to take back that power that was given to us” under the US Constitution, he said.

Engel, a Democrat from New York, was to convene the committee’s first hearing of the year February 6 with an announced focus on the war in Yemen.

“I certainly agree Iran is making trouble there once again and we cannot turn our face away from the reality of what Iran does but it does not in my view warrant a sloppy war where nobody cares about civilians and children,” Engel said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think-tank.