When even The Atlantic praises President Donald Trump on America's new strategy in Afghanistan, it's time to give credit where credit is due.
The new strategy will see the U.S. military boost its presence on the ground from 8,500 to as many as 12,500, give increased latitude to commanders on the ground to engage Taliban and other terrorist nodes inside Afghanistan, puts Pakistan on notice that it either cuts off aid to the Taliban or will face sanctions, urges India and the United Kingdom to contribute more to defeating terrorism in Afghanistan, and insists that military supremacy -- but not nation building -- will be the key objectives for the American military.
Noted in the past but forgotten today, the United States has dealt with situations such as Afghanistan before. What was required in an earlier time was a 10 year presence and a Marshall Plan to destroy the Nazis and the Japanese Empire. Today, both are thriving democracies and key American allies.
The earlier decisions by the Obama administration to withdraw on a timetable feeds into Speaker Paul Ryan's criticism of the strategy: We have the watches; they have the time. In short, the Taliban simply wait out Coalition forces until we are gone, then contest control of the country against Afghani nationals in an effort to reassert power.
What is most interesting here, as observed by CNBC, is that we are slowly seeing an emerging "Trump Doctrine" come to the forefront of American foreign relations. In essence, the United States works in concert with regional powers to impose a degree of stability -- but in concert and not on the American dime.
This new approach is not a wild change from the post-Second World War order that America has led over the last 70 years. The United States is in no way ceding its leadership on the world stage, nor will we accept the role of being the world's policeman. Rather, the United States military is returning to the definition coined by former General Norman Schwarzkopf back in the early 1990s. The heavy lift of rebuilding economies and reversing fortunes is not the task of warfighers, but NGOs and those principally effected by the violent changes war brings.
If this sounds like a rejection of idealism and a revisitation of foreign policy realism, then you have the point succinctly.
Clearly, one should not read too deeply into criticisms that a more muscular foreign policy stance is somehow aiding and abetting the violence that warfare ultimately brings. Rather, the Trump administration is concluding two things in bold and clear colors to contrast with the pastels of the Obama administration: (1) military force must be respected and appreciated for its nature and effect, and (2) peace is an organic process that resists a cookie-cutter foreign policy; where the United States can play a role in bringing about stability and removing the ability for bad actors to project force, but where the outcomes must ultimately come from the region itself, not imposed from Washington.
Between the caricature of the "cowboy diplomacy" of the Bush era and the soft-power uprisings of the Obama era remains a place for democratic realism when dealing with less-than-ideal conditions. American blood and treasure are best leveraged in the preservation of a stable and enduring peace, not in the opposite extremes of either endless combat or abandoning a region to a Weimar-style solution only to return 20 years later.
While the President is following an approach of realism to protect the American people, I also believe the greatest asset the U.S. has is that belief others have in us as the "beacon of liberty". Standing up for freedom is what draws allies and friends to us, but not through nation-building. We represent what humankind wants to be, as was most eloquently expressed by President Reagan. Now we have to live up to that ideal.
More after the jump...