Another broken promise.
Candidate Donald Trump promised the nation that if elected he would end a foreign policy based on nation building and engagement in expensive unwinnable wars. Last night president Donald Trump broke that promise.
The president said that his gut instinct told him to pull out of Afghanistan. During the campaign he had promised to do just that. But like so many of his predecessors this president learned that what seems crystal clear out on the campaign trail becomes incredibly more complicated once you are seated behind the Resolute Desk.
So the president announced that we will not be pulling out of Afghanistan after all. In fact we will maintain a military presence in Afghanistan “until we win.” But…our commitment to the task is not open ended. We will no longer engage in nation building. We will kill terrorists. But we will work toward helping the Afghan government reach a point where it can govern, defend itself, end corruption and bring piece to the region.
I don’t know what any of that means. I do know Steve Bannon and Trump’s base will not be pleased.
Several weeks ago the president said that he was turning decisions regarding military deployments in the Middle East over the generals. Secretary of Defense Mattis saw clearly that what the president was trying to do was cede mission responsibility to the generals so the generals, not the president, would shoulder the blame if things went wrong. Mattis was having none of that. Mattis said he would not act on the president’s order until the president signed off on a comprehensive strategy.
Last night the president laid out the pillars of his strategy. It was long on rhetoric and short on specifics. It included a public criticism of Pakistan for harboring terrorists and promise to engage India to assist Pakistan in economic development within the region. A promise that is certain to raise the hackles of the Pakistani government.
The president refused to get specific about the size of any troop deployments saying they would be based on conditions on the ground. Reports are that Mattis is planning to send another 4,000 troops into the region where 8,000 now serve. One has to wonder if the 100,000 troops in Afghanistan under Obama could not eliminate the Taliban how effective can 8-12,000 be.
While the president’s comments were chock full of military rhetoric little was said about the part diplomacy would play in his plan. Perhaps that is because he has yet to fill the key positions at the State Department that would be working day to day to see that his strategy bears fruit. How do you work India into the equation when you don’t have an Indian ambassador or any diplomatic staff assigned to that country? Not to mention that you just disbanded the diplomatic office tasked by the Obama administration to broker peaceful relations between the always hostile Pakistan and India governments.
The truth of the matter is there is no “winning” in Pakistan there is only doing one’s best to avoid losing. The best we can do is maintain a base of operations from which we can attack terrorist strongholds while keeping an eye on Pakistan. In other words a Korean like military presence for the foreseeable future.
Trump didn’t say that. While Trump was admitting to a lie he was telling us yet another.
On a side note…I could not help but notice that this president, who engaged in such divisive rhetoric in the aftermath of Charlottesville, went to great pains to praise the military for their unity and brotherhood across all races and religions. Hypocrisy is forever lost on this president.
To those who would give this president credit for listening to his advisors, abandoning his gut instincts and delivering a composed “presidential” speech… I would reserve my applause until we see how he performs tonight at his campaign rally in Phoenix. My guess is that off teleprompter in front of a raucous crowd the real Donald Trump will return.