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.
The time for conventional solutions is over and the time for realistic, fact-based analysis is here. After 16 consecutive years of a war that nobody talks much about anymore, we must confront the central lesson of this entire ordeal: Outside of a half million American troops, occupying Afghanistan for decades on end, American diplomats becoming the viceroys of a tribal society, and U.S. soldiers using enormously brutal tactics to cow the Taliban into submission, the U.S. and its NATO allies lack the capacity to pacify Afghanistan.
Tillerson’s speech isn’t some historical inflection point in American history. The U.S. will continue to speak out on human rights issues when it’s desired, and Tillerson will continue to press many of his counterparts in private about the need to shape up. But in some situations, the U.S. has bigger fish to fry.
For the United States to once again repeat the mistakes of the recent past—charging in for more regime change, more nation-building, and more unintended consequences—will be detrimental to the Middle East’s progress toward some semblance of safety. It’s time to let ISIS lose without us.
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.