Secretary Mattis in Afghanistan, Kabul Airport Hit by Rockets

Secretary of Defense James Mattis made a surprise visit to Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday.  Hours later, militants launched a rocket attack on the airport in Kabul.

The Taliban claims that Mattis was the target, although he was no longer at the airport when they attacked.  The Islamic State has also claimed responsibility for the attacks.  Both Islamic State (ISIS) and Taliban forces control territory in Afghanistan but, while they have co-operated at times on joint attacks, they seek different ends.  The Taliban desires control of Afghanistan, while ISIS pursues the institution of a global Islamic caliphate.

Mattis is a highly-regarded retired Marine Corps General, having previously served in many conflicts, including the Persian Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan, and the War in Iraq.

Accompanying Mattis was NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.  They met with Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan, and General John Nicholson, commander of American forces in the country.  This was the first visit by Mattis to Afghanistan after President Donald Trump announced his new strategy for the Afghan war last month.

The Resurgent previously reported on the key pieces of Trump’s new strategy, but the main points are that he is loosening the rules of engagement for American forces and focussing on assisting the Afghan government and military so that they can begin to control their own country’s security.  In addition, Pakistan will be expected to assist with rooting militants from its territory, and India may be enlisted as a partner in the fight.

There are approximately U.S. 11,000 troops currently in Afghanistan, with 3,500 more being sent.  At the war’s peak in 2011, there were over 100,000 American troops there.  Since the beginning of the war in 2001, American casualties have included over 2,300 dead and 17,000 wounded.


Trump’s “Principled Realism”

Back in February, soon after President Trump took office, I posted that I thought he would pursue a foreign policy aligned with the international relations theory or perspective of “realism” (original article here).  To summarize, the realist perspective believes the following:

  • States are the supreme actors on the international stage
  • There is no authority higher than the state which can force its will upon it (i.e. the relationship among states is anarchic)
  • States are rational, making decisions which are in their best interest (they are amoral in a sense, because what’s “right” is self-referential to their own interests)
  • States desire to maintain and grow their power in order to pursue their interests and maintain their survival

President Trump’s speech last night about Afghanistan and South Asia served as a further movement towards realism.  In the speech, he expressed a pivot from the liberalism and idealism of past administrations to what he called “principled realism.”  The most telling statement of the speech in this regard was:

But we will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands or try to rebuild other countries in our own image. Those days are now over. Instead, we will work with allies and partners to protect our shared interests.

As part of this “principled realism,” President Trump articulated the following “pillars:”

  1. Basing decisions on “conditions on the ground” rather than “arbitrary timetables.”
  2. Integrating American diplomatic, economic, and military power to achieve America’s goals.  In Afghanistan, this means enabling the Afghan military and government to be able to chart their own course once the fight against terrorism is won.
  3. Putting pressure on Pakistan to fight terrorists within its borders and to stop sheltering them.
  4. Strengthening America’s partnership with India and increasing India’s role in the region and in Afghanistan.  India can help with economic development in the area.
  5. Loosening the rules of engagement (ROE) that American military forces are bound by, in order to enable them to better fight terrorists and hostile forces.

In the short term, Trump’s speech means an increased American, and potentially NATO, military presence in Afghanistan.

Longer term, it seems to indicate that the outcome for Afghanistan may well be a negotiated peace with all parties involved in the government of the country, including the Taliban (as Trump stated in his speech).

Trump’s speech also means that India may arise as a power to rival China in the region and serve as a check on its ambitions.  The message to China is that America will find other partners willing to work with it, if China is unable or unwilling.


Trump’s Silver Lining on Afghanistan

Two truths I’ve learned in the last 24 hours:

Truth Number 1: A total eclipse is orders of magnitude beyond a 98 percent eclipse of the sun. The reason we have to wear special glasses right up to the second of “totality” is that any sunlight shining past the moon is ten thousand times brighter than totality.

Truth Number 2: The presidency changes people, even Donald Trump.

I didn’t believe Truth Number 2 applied to Trump at all until last night. But witness his words:

That is why shortly after my inauguration, I directed Secretary of Defense Mattis and my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of all strategic options in Afghanistan and South Asia. My original instinct was to pull out. And historically, I like following my instincts.

But all my life I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, in other words, when you’re President of the United States. So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle. After many meetings, over many months, we held our final meeting last Friday at Camp David with my cabinet and generals to complete our strategy.

Whether you agree or disagree with the conclusions at which Trump and his cabinet arrived is really only tangental to the truth itself. I believe, like many, there are no good options in Afghanistan. It’s a hell hole. The Russians know it’s a hell hole, and now we know it too.

The difference between the Russians and Americans is very simple. They don’t give a rat’s behind about honoring dead soldiers and achieving an “honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices…” When it was time for the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan, they left. They didn’t care if the Taliban ran the place after that and sold heroin around the world.

Somehow, the office changed Trump from a Russian cynic nationalist point of view, to a global security point of view. This doesn’t mean Trump is a Davos-loving trilateralist, but it does mean he can change.

There’s one silver lining from last night’s speech;  the fact that Trump attributed the change to “when you’re President of the United States.” It, to my ears, was the first time Trump expressed the thought that the office was larger than himself. It was the one arrow from his mouth he could launch that pierced “only I can fix.”

If Trump’s 1.0 incarnation was to follow his instincts, this is no longer Trump 1.0. Obviously, Trump did not write his speech. It wasn’t filled with “believe me” or “that the world has never seen” riffs, and had only one reference to “loser.” He didn’t appear to go off-script, and therefore spoke the words that place the office over the man.

That is a very big deal with a man named Donald Trump.

Looking back seven months since “American carnage” took office, the change in the man, policy-wise, has been remarkable. His only constant has been the war on the press, which I still believe Trump will win. But he’s gone from an economic protectionist, wall-building military isolationist, to a deal-making proponent of global cooperation and security.

This is not the Donald Trump that stood on the Republican National convention platform last July. The office has, in fact, changed him.

There’s hope it might continue to change him, especially with his own Marine personal life coach calling the shots in the White House.

As for the eclipse…you don’t get to see totality until it happens. It’s no different with politics. If Trump gets to a place where his potential becomes reality, good things can happen. Until then, we have to keep using glasses to filter out his damaging rays.

But even a little, tiny bit of progress is good when there’s been almost nothing but bad. (Still, is it really as bad as it would have been with Hillary?)

I’ll take the speech, I’ll take the strategy in Afghanistan–agree or not–and I’ll be happy with the silver lining. What other choice is there (and no, #Resist is not a choice)?

Trump’s Big Asia Shift: Goodbye Pakistan, Hello India

President Trump gave what we can legitimately call a major foreign policy and anti-terror strategy speech tonight. Speaking before a military audience at Fort Myer, Va., the president called the nation to unity, healing and love.

He then made what will surely be a bombshell of a shift in American’s focus in South Asia–flipping our support from Pakistan to larger rival India, and redoubling our efforts to achieve an “honorable and enduring victory” in Afghanistan.

Trump spoke for about a half hour, and remained “on script” reading from the teleprompter. None of the pique or emotional outbursts of previous talks was evident in what was a very conventional, presidential address.

“We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other,” Trump said as a preface to announcing a fairly seismic shift in the way the so-called “war on terror” is being conducted in Afghanistan and South Asia.

The president said that his initial instinct was to end the war in Afghanistan, but after many meetings. he felt that three fundamental conclusions guided his decision:

1. Our nation must seek an “honorable and enduring outcome.”

2. The consequences of a “rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.”

3. The security threats we face in Afghanistan and the region “are immense.”

Trump singled out Pakistan as a nation that has given a haven to terrorists. He called the terrorists “nothing but thugs and criminals and predators and…that’s right…losers.”

He laid out three “core pillars” to his plan to achieve victory over terrorists.

First, the U.S. will shift to a “strategy of conditions,” which means we will no longer focus on numbers of troops or plans for further military operations. “I will not say when we are going to attack,” Trump said, adding, “but attack we will.”

“We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists,” he said.

The second pillar is that the U.S. will no longer be silent about Pakistan’s tolerance and sheltering of terrorists. “In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner,” Trump said. “But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day…to kill our people.”

Trump said that will have to change. “It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and peace.”

The third pillar is India. India has historically been Pakistan’s rival. Trump noted that both countries have nuclear weapons, and he mentioned the tension between them that could develop into violence.

A shift toward India, which Trump said makes billions in trade with America, is for the “broader Indo-Pacific region.”

Finally, Trump said he’s removing restrictive rules of engagement and giving the military the tools to fight. “Micromanagement from Washington, D.C. does not win battles.”

He pledged to expand authority for U.S. armed forces to target terrorists and criminal organizations. He promised to maximize sanctions.

“Our troops will fight to win,” Trump said. “Victory will have a clear definition.”

The president once again called his paradigm “principled realism,” whereby the U.S. does not seek to recreate our culture or nation in other countries, but to focus on American interests, and seek partners who share them. Those other nations will be required to participate financially, and by showing loyalty.

Trump thanked the Afghan people for their commitment and sacrifice. He lauded those soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery and said the country must honor them by pursuing a victory worthy of their sacrifice.

Trump to Address the Nation on Afghanistan and South Asia

President Donald J. Trump will address the nation about his strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia this evening at 9:00 p.m. from Fort Myer in Arlington, VA.

After a seven-month review of options in Afghanistan, during which President Trump expressed frustration about continuing to follow a losing strategy, Trump and his advisors have decided upon a strategy. The decision emerged from a meeting he held Friday with Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, national security advisor H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and other top advisors at the presidential retreat at Camp David, in rural Maryland.

The details of the Trump strategy havens been revealed but Defense Secretary Mattis offered a few comments about the strategy Sunday:

“The process was rigorous,” Mattis said Sunday, speaking to reporters in Amman, Jordan, as he visited the region. “And it involved all members of the Cabinet, of the national security staff, writ large.”

Without going into detail, Mattis said the strategy “involves significant allies,” presumably members of the NATO coalition that have fought at the U.S.’s side in Afghanistan since the invasion that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“The president has made a decision,” Mattis said. “I am very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous.”

“It is a South Asia strategy,” he added. “It is not just an Afghanistan strategy.”

Reports say that the new strategy includes an increase in troop strength of 4,000 troops. That’s not really new because President Trump authorized the troop increase in June. Mattis refrained from building up the American force there until Trump agreed on a broader strategy.

Jonathan Swan of Axios reports that, “Trump’s top national security advisers all agree the only way they’ll win their missions in Afghanistan is to modestly increase troop levels, keep training the Afghan military, and keep a strong CIA and special forces presence to run aggressive counter-terrorism operations.” Mattis has reportedly “been using this line in meetings: ‘Mr. President, we haven’t fought a 16-year war so much as we have fought a one-year war, 16 times.’”

Trump’s advisors presented him with other scenarios, which included a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan (a continuation of Obama’s failed strategy), and counter-terrorism-only options. Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon wanted Trump to gradually withdraw the U.S. military from Afghanistan and replace it with private paramilitary forces to hunt terrorists. Swain tells us that Mattis and company never took that idea seriously:

I’m told the Bannon strategy has never been part of the NSC paperwork, though the former chief strategist circumvented the official process and took his arguments directly to the president.

According to Swan, despite his reluctance, Trump “doesn’t want to be the president who loses the country to the terrorists.” Should Trump order a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, advisers believe he’d all but ensure the Taliban completes its takeover of the country. Al-Qaeda and ISIS would be allowed to flourish, and you’d have a terrorist launching pad similar to before 9/11.

President has told his advisors that while he thinks the war in Afghanistan has been a disaster, and the U.S. is losing, he thinks total withdrawal would be bad. Trump saw what happened when Obama withdrew from Iraq and believes that doing so precipitously in Afghanistan would allow the Taliban to take over, and Al-Qaeda would be resurgent.

The new strategy will only work if the Taliban is denied its sanctuaries in Pakistan. Reuters reports that Trump’s advisors are split on how much to pressure Pakistan:

Nicholson, McMaster and Lisa Curtis, senior director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council, favor taking a strong hand with Pakistan to deal with Taliban militants using that country as a base from which to plot attacks in Afghanistan, current and former officials say.

On the other side are State Department officials and others at the Pentagon, including Dunford, who take a broader view of Pakistan’s strategic importance and are less convinced that harsh actions will secure more cooperation from Islamabad, they said.

I don’t see how we can win in Afghanistan unless the Taliban is denied safe haven in Pakistan and Iran and Russia are made to stop sheltering, training, funding and arming Taliban insurgents.

A Trump Intervention and the Afghan Girls Robotic Team

Politico reports that a team of Afghan girls hoping to participate in an international robotics competition in the U.S. next week were twice denied visas by the U.S. State Department. But the girls are now going to be allowed into the country and will participate in the FIRST Global Challenge robotics competition thanks to the intervention of resident Donald J. Trump.

Mashable reports President Trump intervened and asked officials at the National Security Council if there was anything that could be done to allow the team of girls into the country.

According to Politico after those officials talked to counterparts at various agencies, the Department of Homeland Security agreed to allow the girls in on a system known as “parole,” which will allow them to stay in the United States for 10 days, though technically not on visas:

Parolee – A parolee is an alien, appearing to be inadmissible to the inspecting officer, allowed into the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or when that alien’s entry is determined to be for significant public benefit. Parole does not constitute a formal admission to the United States and confers temporary status only, requiring parolees to leave when the conditions supporting their parole cease to exist.

The parole authority is used in exceptional circumstances. Officials determined there was significant public benefit to letting the girls into the U.S. for the competition.

Some had argued that the visa denials sent the wrong message to the people of Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are still fighting Taliban militants who once barred girls from attending school and undercut the administration’s insistence that it cares about empowering women globally.

The fact that the girls are representing Afghanistan in the contest shows how far female education there has come since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban from power in 2001

The FIRST Global Challenge robotics competition will take place July 16-18 in Washington, D.C. Around 160 countries are sending teams to participate in the contest.

To Deny President Trump Any Credit, the New York Times Rewrites +2100 Years of History

In 416 BC, the Greek city-state of Athens decided it had to besiege and destroy Melos so every other Grecian city-state would know Athens was strong. Julius Caesar famously marched his legions through Gaul and camped there to send tribal leaders strong signals that there was a new sheriff in town. The Emperor Claudius invaded and conquered Britain to show he was strong and could do what others before him had not. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid saw American bombers fly over Tokyo to signal our resolve and determination. After becoming President, Donald Trump launched missile strikes in Syria and allowed commanders in Afghanistan to drop the MOAB on ISIS, signaling a change in American policy and a re-engagement from a position of strength.

All these things were not just military strategy, but they were shows of force designed to send a message to rivals. They were historically acknowledged as useful military strategy until three days ago when the New York Times, to deny President Trump any and all credit for military boldness, determined there is no evidence that shows of force do any good.

Before I go on, you should note that the New York Times article is writing by Max Fisher, formerly of Vox, who is a partisan leftist. He famously rewrote Israeli history to undermine the historic existence of Jews in Israeli territory and got basic historic facts wrong about Israel while peddling Palestinian propaganda.

Now, Fisher has tracked down several liberal political scientists who did not vote for Donald Trump and they naturally declared that such signals are of no value and do not really send messages.

This is the state of the American left. They have swallowed up their intellectual honesty to avoid saying anything nice about President Trump. They will rewrite 2100 years of history to avoid concluding President Trump might have done some good. What is troubling is that the New York Times gives a platform to historic revisionism to serve partisan goals. At a time the Times laments the rise of fake news and the lack of respect for science, it allows a partisan leftist the veneer of objectivity to rewrite history.

Final Presidential Debate Needs To Discuss Afghanistan, Military Readiness

On Wednesday night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the Democratic and Republican nominees for president, respectively, will debate each other for the final time before the November election. With so much of this political cycle focusing on he-said, she-said accusations, outrageous comments, previous failings, personality quirks and a clash of deeply unpopular candidates loathed by important elements in their own parties, it would be refreshing and helpful if Clinton and Trump, assisted by a thoughtful moderator, focused on issues.

Two issues that desperately need more attention this election cycle are the future of the United State’s role in Afghanistan and the future of American military readiness. Donald Trump’s proclamation that he will “build a military that’s gonna be much stronger than it is right now. It’s gonna be so strong, nobody’s gonna mess with us,” and Clinton’s assertion that we “cannot lose our military edge, and that means giving the Pentagon the stable, predictable funding it needs to make smart investments” both fall short of specifics.

While both candidates appear to agree, at least on a big picture level, that the nation needs to increase military spending, what they are not talking about is readiness, which involves funding, but doesn’t necessarily relate to the acquisition of new weapons systems or the addition of new military personnel. Readiness is a lot about maintaining the current force and its capabilities and, where necessary, growing it to make sure force size is aligned with national security priorities.

Such a conversation goes well beyond throwing money at the military so it can be “so strong” and it involves a conversation about what exactly “smart investments” are.

Additionally, a topic that has general escape scrutiny this election cycle is the future of Afghanistan. The threat of ISIS, immediate and dangerous, has grabbed its share of headlines for good reason, but the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan threatens to undo much of the hard work of U.S. forces who have been fighting there for the last 15 years.

According to a Washington Post story over the weekend, one U.S. advisor in Afghanistan described the U.S. presence there, with its restrictive rules of engagement and extremely limited personnel, saying, “We’re like a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.” A national security expert told the paper that the U.S. strategy is “just enough to lose slowly,” hardly a winning plan.

One person who is talking about readiness and Afghanistan is Jim Banks, an Indiana state senator and Congressional candidate who appears poised to win in Indiana’s 3rd District. Banks, a Navy Reserve officer with a recent deployment to Afghanistan, wrote in a recent editorial that Congress needs to work on providing regular funding for the military so readiness can become less dependent on short term political fights and more focused on long-term needs.

“The current model of Congress passing short-term spending bills at the eleventh hour means the Department of Defense often is unable to effectively compete in pricing for contracts or suppliers, which wastes tax dollars,” Banks wrote.

He also pointed out that military readiness is something the next Congress will need to take seriously:

“In the midst of the most complex threat environment our country has faced in over a generation, today the U.S. military is in a readiness crisis that threatens our ability to confront and deter adversaries and address the challenges we face. Our armed forces are smaller, less prepared and less equipped than at any point over the last several decades.”

If these topics merit attention from a Congressional candidate, let’s hope they receive attention at the final presidential debate.