President Trump introduces the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan steering clear from specifics and not disclosing any tangible numbers or timelines on the planned increase of troops in Afghanistan.
In his opening remarks of his address to the nation, Trump spoke to the courage, perseverance, and cogency of the U.S. military, saying that the military transcends “race, creed, and color,” and serves in “perfect cohesion”. Considering the fallout on the transgender ban, many would argue that current cohesion is far from perfect.
He made a valiant effort to reinforce the “unity” rhetoric that many would say was lacking in his immediate comments following the chaos in Charlottesville last week. He said that there is “no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no place for hate”, which was a fairly perceptible attempt to fix the damage his remarks made last week.
“New Strategy” for Afghanistan
Based on the research and consultations he claims he made with his administrators and staff, POTUS announced the following “new” strategies with regards to U.S.’s military involvement in Afghanistan:
The first pillar vaguely discussed the commitment to seeking “an honorable and enduring outcome”, one that would pursue “a plan for victory” in Afghanistan. This plan does not promise a withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan anytime soon. In 2013, Trump had explicitly criticized the Obama administration’s decision to remain in Afghanistan by stating: “Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghans we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA”.
The second pillar essentially referred to the vacuum that would be created as “a consequence of a rapid exit”. POTUS said a hasty that the vacuum then would easily be filled by terrorists. He brought forth the example of 9/11, saying the U.S. “mistakenly” withdrew from Iraq and that we “cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq.” Again, he did not provide any timeline, any specific courses of action, or how this “vacuum” could be avoided in the future.
The third confirmed that there are serious security threats faced in Afghanistan and its neighboring regions, not really introducing any new or groundbreaking information, especially in terms of military strategy. Trump did not mention how terrorism in Afghanistan is unique to the region, what context has led to the rise of terrorism, or if the administration has any specialized strategy to address the problems of the region.
The bulk of his statement was very much a blanket statement in regards to the prevalence of terrorism in this region, but the only mention of addressing such problems was a reiteration of past statements by the administration.
The Future of Foreign Relations
The President said of himself that he is:”a problem-solver”.While he reiterated the three broad points in fighting the war on terror: taking away terrorists’ territory, cutting off their funding, and disempowering their ideology and use a variety of resources, including economic, diplomatic, and military resources he did not reveal any specifics.
POTUS neared his conclusion by emphasizing the importance of an independent and secure Afghanistan, saying America was no longer a nation that used its military to, essentially, colonize foreign lands. Rather, he said, “we work with allies and partners to protect our shared interests.” As well, although POTUS admitted that military “alone will not bring peace to Afghanistan”, that strategic military plans can be a significant factor to sustainable peace. However, he did not mention what said “strategic military plans” would entail, nor when it can be expected that they will be enacted.
Approach to Pakistan
In his address, POTUS also briefly discussed “a change in our approach to Pakistan”. He said Pakistan used to be a great military partner, but that“no partnership can survive the harboring of militants and terrorists”.
Further, POTUS discussed increasing the powers of commanders in the field, and shifting some of this decision-making delegation to those on the field rather than in the hands of “micromanagement from Washington DC”. Although this was a fairly tangible and specific point of action, it is one that his administration has already completed, and thereby is not a “new strategy”. Yet again, Trump mentioned how he has put pressure on American allies to put forth more of a commitment towards collective defense – a topic repeatedly brought up with NATO and said they have had great success in this regard.
Strategy or a political play?
In many regards, this speech was not primarily an introduction of America’s new strategy to involvement in Afghanistan, but rather an opportunity for Trump to try and reiterate the unity and anti-hatred rhetoric, that many would say was lacking in the direct aftermath of the Charlottesville chaos. This speech can be interpreted as a strategic political play to try and avert attention and criticism that had been directed at Trump for his passive comments to the violence and hate crimes spurring across the U.S.