Peter Thiels argument for Trump is an argument against Trump.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

War-Weary Billionaire Backs Trump for the Wrong Reasons

Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.
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Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel is supporting Donald Trump for many reasons. One of them is that he is weary of endless war. This is at least what he told a room full of journalists Monday at the National Press Club.

“While households struggle to keep up with the challenges of everyday life, the government is wasting trillions of dollars on faraway wars,” he said. “Right now we are fighting five of them in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.” He could have added Afghanistan and, depending on the year, Pakistan too.

For Thiel this is part of what he calls a “war bubble,” in which politicians promise “victory is just around the corner.” Of course victory never comes. Instead we are stuck with these conflicts that never end. Thiel says Trump is his choice because he will put an end to the war bubble, whereas Hillary Clinton, with her promise to establish a no-fly zone in Syria, will keep getting into these interminable wars. 

Peter Thiel: Trump Gets 'Big Things' Right

Like other bubbles, the war bubble happens because group-thinking elites delude themselves into seeing an easy solution to a hard problem. Thiel says this failure of the coastal elites is one of the reasons so many Americans are supporting Trump.

Well. Where to start? First, Thiel’s five wars are really one war that began after Sept. 11. George W. Bush used to call it the war on terror. It’s true that the initial resolution that authorized it was narrower than how the White House interprets it today. But because Congress has not asserted its powers in the war, both presidents since Sept. 11 have used this authority to target various jihadis all over the globe.

Thiel must know this. After all, he helped to found Palantir Technologies, a data-mining company that has worked closely with the U.S. military and intelligence community in this war. In 2015, the website TechCrunch published documents from Palantir that disclosed its many U.S. government clients. It included a testimonial from a former Marine who said that with Palantir’s technology “you will know every single bad guy in your area.” On Monday the company won a lawsuit that allows it to compete for the U.S. Army’s next-generation battlefield intelligence network.  

What’s more, Thiel’s preferred candidate has not promised a diminishment in the war on terror. Quite the opposite, Trump says he will bomb the Islamic State in Syria and hopes to team up with Russia and Syria’s dictator to do this. Is Trump too succumbing to the “war bubble”?

The key difference between Trump and Clinton on these endless wars is not whether they would continue them. It’s that Clinton has said she supports a no-fly zone in Syria to protect civilians, whereas Trump is uninterested in such humanitarian interventions and instead is focused on killing terrorists.

There was a candidate who took the same approach back in 2008. His name was Barack Obama, and he campaigned on prosecuting the war against al Qaeda but ending the one in Iraq, which he said had nothing to do with terrorism. He succeeded in this at first. In 2011, the president withdrew troops from Iraq and authorized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. This led the triumphant president to say the tide of war was receding. He suggested in 2014 that America was getting off of a war footing.

Then the Islamic State soon took over large swaths of Iraq and Syria and began plotting and inspiring terror all over the world. Obama realized that just because he sought to end the war on terror, terror did not end its war on us. So he leaves office fighting wars he intended to end.

The lesson here is that the long war against terror is connected nonetheless with the wars that Obama and Trump say are distractions from it. When dictators commit mass atrocities, chaos ensues and a vacuum is created. Terrorists fill that vacuum, and eventually the popular pressure mounts for the U.S. to re-engage.

In this sense the real chimera is the peace bubble. Politicians from both parties in recent years have proposed that doing nothing was an easy solution to very hard problems like Syria and Iraq. But as all of us have learned since 2014, there is no substitute for American power. If you don’t believe me, ask the current president who tried his best to test that hypothesis.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Eli Lake at elake1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net