- - Sunday, July 30, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Andrew Jackson observed, “One man with courage makes a majority.” President Donald Trump is demonstrating the truth of Jackson’s adage.

In the space of just six months, Mr. Trump shattered the power of the entrenched liberal media and reduced illegal immigration to a mere trickle. In Europe, Mr. Trump not only reaffirmed the United States’ Western identity, he also warned Americans and Europeans that if we and our European allies lack the courage to defend our nations, our institutions, our language and our culture, then our civilization’s end is near.

Now, for first time since he took office, Mr. Trump is signaling a new focus in American foreign and defense policy. His decision to suspend aid to the Sunni Islamist fighters attacking the Syrian government and its allies suggests that he is ready to discard the bankrupt ideology of the last 25 years — the idea that defending the American people is not enough, that whenever possible the U.S. Armed Forces should be employed in open-ended missions around the world to punish evildoers.

Mr. Trump is beginning to translate “America First” into a coherent national military strategy for the use of American military power that avoids investing American blood and treasure in debilitating conflicts that are impervious to American military and political solutions. Halting the ongoing, inconclusive military operations in Afghanistan is likely to be the first test case for his new approach.

For the moment, Mr. Trump’s National Security team in the Pentagon and the White House is recommending policies that treat Afghanistan as if it has a cold. They are recommending a haircut and a shave when the patient needs a heart transplant. Something Washington cannot provide.

Even worse, his advisers are nurturing schemes designed to intimidate the Pakistani government into acting against Pakistan’s own strategic interest. Sending four, five or fifty thousand Soldiers and Marines to train the Afghan army and police, let alone drive back the Taliban will make no impression on Afghanistan or the millions of Muslims who live there. Afghanistan’s hopelessly corrupt government, military and police cannot be transformed into replicas of Western armies.

In the absence of an American and allied military presence, the regional struggle for dominance in Central and Southwest Asia involving India, Pakistan, Russia and Iran will resume with the resurgence of the Russian and Iranian-backed Northern Alliance composed of anti-Taliban forces in Western Afghanistan. These things will happen for reasons that have nothing to do with the United States. The Russian armed forces are already engaged in a sporadic war with Islamist Turks in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

The assertion that, “If we don’t fight them in Afghanistan, the Taliban will come here,” must be dismissed. None of the terrorist acts in the West have ever had any tangible connection to the Afghan Tribesmen fighting under the umbrella name “Afghan Taliban.” That’s why American support for continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan is razor thin. The lack of support is not a function of a declining national “will to fight.” Instead, Americans reasonably question what we’re doing there.

The truth is that no amount of American military power or capital investment will “fix” Afghanistan. Washington’s only rational course of action is to withdraw American forces with the publicly stated understanding that how the people of Afghanistan choose to govern themselves is their business. In the meantime, Washington must accept the fact that the states with vital strategic interests at stake in Afghanistan — Iran, Russia, India, Pakistan and, more distantly, China — will reengage.

History is littered with politicians that lacked the courage to face unpleasant facts; men who stuck with policies and strategies long past the point when it made no sense to do so. President Harry Truman was not one of them. Truman had the courage to back Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s plan to envelop the North Koreans at Inchon when the Joint Chiefs universally opposed it. And President Truman had the courage to remove MacArthur when MacArthur insisted on widening the Korean War to China.

Truman’s example points the way for President Trump. The sooner Mr. Trump acts to remove American forces from Afghanistan, the sooner he can focus on the issues that shape the “America First” agenda; the restoration of economic prosperity and homeland defense — the security of U.S. land borders and coastal waters to cope with the criminality and terrorism emanating from the Caribbean Basin and Mexico.

• Douglas Macgregor, a retired U.S. Army colonel and decorated combat veteran, is the author of “Margin of Victory” (Naval Institute Press, 2016).

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