Ret. Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg is the national security adviser to the vice president of the United States.
The day Donald Trump became commander in chief, he immediately made the effort to destroy the reprehensible Islamic State caliphate in Syria a priority. He has shown that he will never be a president who talks tough about red lines with little accompanying action.
While still a candidate, Trump took a clear-eyed view on the use of military force, including the need to fight the Islamic State on its home ground. His intent was to retake the caliphate’s capital (the Syrian city of Raqqa), defeat its ground forces and put its leaders on the run. As president, Trump outlined a strategic effort tailored to minimize American boots on the ground and to succeed where others did not.
The results speak for themselves. Raqqa is no longer under Islamic State control, the caliphate ended, and its remaining senior leaders are hiding in the shadows as we continue to hunt them. When we find them, we will kill them.
As a nation, we have borne a large share of the operational load in this effort, including advising, training, fighting, providing logistical support and financing the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. With support on the ground from other allies, including France, the U.K. and Syrian Democratic Forces, we have succeeded. It is time to shift the fight to a different footing.
Fighting terrorism in all its forms is a critical mission, and we are not abandoning that fight. But we cannot continue to be distracted by protracted conflicts in the Middle East. We will fight at places and times of our choosing. We face larger existential threats to our nation in the form of a resurgent Russia, expanding Chinese interference and the continued threat from North Korea. These threats to our nation are clear, while protracted wars of the Middle East are a drain on our national blood and treasure.
Perpetual war is not the American way of war. Our people deserve better than constant conflict. Those who argue that war is a perpetual continuum fail to honor our sacred duty to our military. Wars should be the exception, not the norm; our men and women in uniform need to know they will be used when needed and supported to their fullest. They will not be used in little-known or forgotten conflicts that slowly fall away from the national consciousness.
Our involvement in Syria has been one such conflict, forgotten by those who ignored the initial warning signs in that country. We were slow to pick up that Islamic State leadership had moved to Syria after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the creation of the caliphate in 2014. Forgotten by those who overlooked the creation of an Islamic State caliphate. Forgotten by those who let its thuggish leaders hide in plain sight. And forgotten by those who halfheartedly committed our armed forces without clear direction or purpose. President Trump did not forget. He led, and under his leadership, we succeeded. It is now time for other stakeholders in the Middle East to take ownership of their security.
President Trump has not forgotten the defense of our nation nor the wonderful men and women who serve. He has not forgotten his duty to them, working to ensure that the defense budget was increased, not cut. He has not forgotten to provide our troops with the best equipment, the best training and fair compensation. When committed to action, he provides commanders wide latitude and full support. He has not forgotten to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs accountable for taking care of our troops after they have served. He will never forget the quiet dignity of that sobering moment when he received a fallen service member at Dover Air Force Base. And he will never forget to honor our great young men and women in uniform.
We are not abandoning the fight — far from it. We are recommitting ourselves to what is best for America, our citizens and the most precious resource we have: our men and women in uniform.