McCain and Wolfowitz claim further decades of U.S. military intervention, regime change, and nation-building are the only alternative to global misery and chaos. The truth is more complicated, but also more hopeful. The United States can—indeed, can only—maintain her example of liberty in a world of political oppression by recalling that American influence does not depend on intervention, by returning to Adams’ motto of “Freedom, Independence, Peace.”
When President Donald Trump makes his first visit to Brussels today to commiserate with European heads of state, you can be sure that the unpredictable and loose-lipped president will do something that is entirely predictable—lecture his European counterparts about the absolute imperative of dragging their defense budgets out of the gutter, arresting the decline, and reinvesting more national resources in their countries’ military capabilities.
Keeping the American people safe is the first job of the federal government, so enhancing U.S. intelligence resources in Afghanistan and using military force when a terrorist plot is imminent should always be on the list of U.S. concerns. There is nothing controversial about self-defense, and the United States shouldn’t apologize when it must deploy its military to snuff out a terrorist organization.However, engaging in a social engineering experiment, ridding the entire Afghan political system of corruption and financial mismanagement, determining how Afghans should govern themselves, and creating an Afghan army strong and resilient enough to keep control over the entire country are completely objectives that are entirely different.
That prospect is only possible if the United States can pivot from an unsuccessful, military-first approach to a robust program in which realist diplomacy and productive economic engagement become our go-to tools of statecraft. In dealing with friend and foe alike, it is now more necessary than ever for Washington to lead by good example and good conversation on shared interests and values.
If Trump’s shock presidential campaign taught us anything, it should be that the United States cannot be so stretched trying to protect everyone else that it doesn’t have the leeway to focus on its own citizens. As Trump’s actions clash with his theory, as he mulls sending more troops into Syria and Afghanistan, he should bear that in mind.
The Pentagon still has time to pull back and reassess whether sustaining a serious negotiation process is served by adding more bombs and sorties to the mix. If there is any country in which President Trump’s “America First” policy is applicable, it's Yemen.
After months of internal discussions about the best way forward to recapture Raqqa from the Islamic State, the Trump administration has decided the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—a coalition of Kurdish and Sunni Arab fighters—is the best mechanism to expel ISIS from the city in the shortest amount of time. And for the first time since the counter-ISIS campaign began nearly three years ago, the United States will arm the Kurdish component of the SDF coalition directly, something which has our NATO ally Turkey seething.
It is time for the Administration to develop a new strategy that identifies attainable objectives that safeguard the U.S. homeland. This strategy must neither place an unnecessary burden on the budget nor strain further the Armed Forces. What the president must not do, however, is repeat the mistakes of the past two administrations by trying to apply yet more combat power to a fundamentally political and diplomatic problem. If President Trump increases the lethal power applied to solve systemic political problems, we’ll see once and for all that there is no path to “victory” in Afghanistan.
If Afghan political leaders can’t or won’t reform, there is no reason why the Afghan government deserves to be the recipient of any more checks from the American taxpayer. Nor do they deserve any more sacrifices from the U.S. soldier, sailor, airman, or marine.
Until Washington takes into consideration the role Americans want to play in the world; assesses vital national security interests when deciding whether to use military force; and learns the best way to promote our values abroad is through increased trade and diplomacy, U.S. foreign policy will continue to rack up debt on missions that don’t enhance American security.
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.