Thursday, August 24, 2017

President Trump Goes To War: Afghanistan Redux

In his maiden foreign policy speech of August 21, 2017, President Donald Trump sketched out his plan for “winning” the war in Afghanistan.  Trump also warned Pakistan that if it did not stop harboring terrorists, he would cut off several hundred million dollars in aid and attack Taliban sanctuaries inside Pakistan.  His plan marks a continuation of the war as fought under presidents Bush and Obama, but with changes in the rules of military activity favoring U.S. forces.

Trump’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, staying as long as necessary to “win,” reversed his campaign pledge to withdraw.  As he put it, campaigning is one thing, but sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office facing reality is another.  (Why any voter would ever choose a candidate on the basis of his or her foreign/military policy proposals put forth during a campaign is a great mystery.)

In one bold move, Trump intensified the war on Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan and extended it to another Muslim country, Pakistan.  The tone and manner of his speech were very presidential.

Now we are entangled in an even greater war against Islamic radical terrorism, from Libya in the West to Pakistan in the East, with Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Russia in between, not to mention the boatloads of Arab and North African migrants, some terrorists among them, pouring into Europe by land and sea.

Moments after Trump’s speech, China’s Foreign Ministry announced China’s continued support for Pakistan.  President Xi Jinping has already pledged $48 billion in contracts for Pakistan as part of his  “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

Pakistan’s gross domestic product is around $300 billion.  Its government spends about $40 billion.  U.S. economic and military aid to Pakistan is less than one percent of its budget.  Threatening its cutoff will not frighten Pakistan.  China will likely make that up and more in additional aid to Pakistan.

What if Pakistan requests military assistance from China, including troops and equipment to be stationed inside Pakistan near the Afghanistan border?  U.S. military activity in Syria is constrained by the risk of hitting Russian troops or engaging Russian aircraft in combat.

Lots to think about.  Only time will tell if the results from Trump’s approach to Afghanistan will be any more successful than those of his two predecessors.  I’m from Missouri, the “show me” state.

PS.  Someone forgot to inform Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Trump twice proclaimed “we will win” in his speech.   At his briefing of August 22, 2017, Tillerson acknowledged that the U.S. might not win, but that neither would the Taliban.  The stalemate would force the Taliban to the negotiating table.

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