The American government has an obligation to keep our citizens safe. We must now recognize, however belatedly, that accomplishing that objective cannot be accomplished in Afghanistan by deploying additional U.S. combat power. Sending more troops into Afghanistan now cannot and will not make America safer. It is time to instead employ means and tactics that have a chance of success.
Trump's delegation of war power largely ignores America's recent history in Afghanistan. Military solutions to insurgencies are ineffective when the insurgents you are fighting can count on porous borders, a safe-haven in a neighboring country, and a host government unable to wean itself off of its addiction to corruption. Pushing so much control to the Pentagon has the risk of reinforcing a confidence in the current crop of commanders that they can succeed where previous commanders failed.
Our priority is to protect the American homeland; therefore, we should focus on that—not nation-building, regime change, and annihilating any form of terrorism anywhere around the globe.All tools of statecraft—economic, diplomatic, and military—should be employed to eliminate threats to U.S. security. But that means making strategic choices and prioritizing missions.
U.S. soldiers have been in Afghanistan for more than a decade and a half, making it America’s longest foreign war. There appears to be no end in sight. In fact, with the White House delegating authority to set troop levels to the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Mattis has decided to send another 4,000 troops to Afghanistan. But what have we achieved in nearly 16 years? And at what cost?
The president’s most sacred duty is protecting our national security, while Congress appropriates hundreds of billions in support of it and the Pentagon is tasked with maintaining it. An assessment of American military operations over the past two decades illustrates the lack of logical, coherent national security strategies. As a result, the safety of our citizens at home and interests abroad suffer continual degradation.
A decade and a half of experience more than demonstrates it is unrealistic and impractical to expect a foreign military—even the most powerful and well-funded military in the world by several orders of magnitude—to impose stability on Afghanistan. No occupying force can sweep every cave, clear every valley, re-build every village across more than 250,000 square miles. More to the point, no occupying force can make an external military solution fit what is primarily an internal political problem. Afghanistan can only be “fixed” by Afghans.
The United States remains a nation at war, with a passive Congress willing to cede even more power to an ever-assertive executive. The balance of power between the legislative and executive branches has been out of whack for far too long. If America’s elected representatives don't address that imbalance this year, when will they?
Before we decide to spend more, we need to better spend what we’re spending now. And any spending must be guided a sound strategy. President Trump campaigned on the slogan “America First.” He needs to articulate what that means in terms of national security before any increase in defense spending. A good start would be focusing on defending America against external threats (of which, there are few) and stop being the world’s policeman. He should have allies take primary responsibility for their own security, and end regime change and nation-building, especially in the Middle East.
The Qatar episode– the biggest diplomatic rupture in the Gulf since the GCC was founded over 35 years ago– will be an opportunity for Arab states to prove to the U.S. and everybody else that they are mature and capable enough to talk with one another in a constructive way and arrive at a diplomatic solution that everybody can live with. And the United States should allow those in the region do the heavy lifting for a change.
Washington and its allies are invested in an Iraq that is economically vibrant, politically successful, and capable enough militarily to defend the Iraqi people from all threats, foreign and domestic. But the U.S. cannot deliver that for them or anyone else—their future must be earned by Iraqi leaders and citizens.
To inform citizens, thought leaders, and policy makers of the importance of a strong, dynamic military—used more judiciously to protect America's narrowly defined national interests—and promote a realistic grand strategy prioritizing restraint, diplomacy, and free trade to ensure American security.