Americans who lived through Sept. 11, 2001, can never forget that fateful day. The fear and anguish the Islamist terror attacks triggered, though, does not mean that the United States must remain at war forever. Nearly a generation on, President Trump is further drawing down the forces that have avenged the terrorists’ victims and safeguarded the nation against follow-up attacks. He is right to do so, and his actions don’t mean Americans will now forget.
Mr. Trump pledged this week to bring home nearly half of the U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, matching an earlier plan for a similar withdrawal from Afghanistan. “We kept America out of new wars, and we’re bringing our troops back home,” the president told supporters at a 2020 presidential campaign rally in North Carolina on Tuesday. “We’re bringing them back home from all of these faraway places.”
The words “never forget” can still transport Americans back to that blue-skied autumn day. It was the moment when nearly 3,000 innocents were murdered in the World Trade Towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field by Muslim extremists in three hijacked jetliners. For many, an innocent belief in the abiding goodness in their fellow man died with them.
Within weeks, U.S. expeditionary forces were sent to Afghanistan in search of the al Qaeda masterminds of the attack and their Taliban protectors. Nineteen years later, al Qaeda is mostly a memory, and the Taliban is more preoccupied with negotiating power-sharing in their own nation than abetting attacks on ours. U.S. troop levels that surpassed 100,000 during the Obama administration currently stand at 8,500, and Mr. Trump plans to reduce the number to around 4,000 by Election Day on Nov. 3.
Iraq as an existential threat to the U.S. proved sketchy at best, but the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein had the effect of flooding the region with allied forces and pinning down America’s enemies. Though the flames of Islamic terror continued to blaze over the years, they burned mostly far from the U.S. homeland. Troop levels that peaked at 165,000 in 2007 have dwindled to the current 5,200, and the president intends to cut them to 3,500 this fall.
America has paid dearly in blood and treasure to keep the nation safe. With his vow to bring the nation’s troops home, Mr. Trump has, in effect, reminded citizens of John Quincy Adams’ restrained America: “She goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.”
Even as the Sept. 11 chapter of American history nears its end, “never forget” reminds the living to always honor that cruel day’s victims and the warriors who have safeguarded the nation since, including those still bearing arms afar who are due to come home. Forget? Never.
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