To­ward an ‘Amer­ica First’ for­eign pol­icy

A na­tional strat­egy is emerg­ing that avoids con­flicts im­per­vi­ous to Amer­i­can mil­i­tary so­lu­tions

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Dou­glas Macgre­gor

An­drew Jack­son ob­served, “One man with courage makes a ma­jor­ity.” President Don­ald Trump is demon­strat­ing the truth of Jack­son’s adage. In the space of just six months, Mr. Trump shat­tered the power of the en­trenched lib­eral me­dia and re­duced il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion to a mere trickle. In Europe, Mr. Trump not only reaf­firmed the United States’ West­ern iden­tity, he also warned Amer­i­cans and Euro­peans that if we and our Euro­pean al­lies lack the courage to de­fend our na­tions, our in­sti­tu­tions, our lan­guage and our cul­ture, then our civ­i­liza­tion’s end is near.

Now, for first time since he took of­fice, Mr. Trump is sig­nal­ing a new fo­cus in Amer­i­can for­eign and de­fense pol­icy. His de­ci­sion to sus­pend aid to the Sunni Is­lamist fight­ers at­tack­ing the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and its al­lies sug­gests that he is ready to dis­card the bank­rupt ide­ol­ogy of the last 25 years — the idea that de­fend­ing the Amer­i­can peo­ple is not enough, that when­ever pos­si­ble the U.S. Armed Forces should be em­ployed in open-ended mis­sions around the world to pun­ish evil-do­ers.

Mr. Trump is be­gin­ning to trans­late “Amer­ica First” into a co­her­ent na­tional mil­i­tary strat­egy for the use of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary power that avoids in­vest­ing Amer­i­can blood and trea­sure in de­bil­i­tat­ing con­flicts that are im­per­vi­ous to Amer­i­can mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tions. Halt­ing the on­go­ing, in­con­clu­sive mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in Afghanistan is likely to be the first test case for his new ap­proach.

For the mo­ment, Mr. Trump’s Na­tional Security team in the Pen­tagon and the White House is rec­om­mend­ing poli­cies that treat Afghanistan as if it has a cold. They are rec­om­mend­ing a hair­cut and a shave when the pa­tient needs a heart trans­plant. Some­thing Washington can­not pro­vide.

Even worse, his ad­vi­sors are nur­tur­ing schemes de­signed to in­tim­i­date the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment into act­ing against Pak­istan’s own strate­gic in­ter­est. Send­ing four, five or fifty thou­sand Sol­diers and Marines to train the Afghan army and po­lice, let alone drive back the Tal­iban will make no im­pres­sion on Afghanistan or the mil­lions of Mus­lims who live there. Afghanistan’s hope­lessly cor­rupt gov­ern­ment, mil­i­tary and po­lice can­not be trans­formed into repli­cas of West­ern armies.

In the ab­sence of an Amer­i­can and al­lied mil­i­tary pres­ence, the regional strug­gle for dom­i­nance in Cen­tral and South­west Asia in­volv­ing In­dia, Pak­istan, Rus­sia and Iran will re­sume with the resur­gence of the Rus­sian and Ira­nian-backed North­ern Al­liance com­posed of anti-Tal­iban forces in West­ern Afghanistan. These things will hap­pen for rea­sons that have noth­ing to do with the United States. The Rus­sian armed forces are al­ready en­gaged in a spo­radic war with Is­lamist Turks in the Cau­ca­sus and Cen­tral Asia.

The as­ser­tion that, “If we don’t fight them in Afghanistan, the Tal­iban will come here,” must be dis­missed. None of the ter­ror­ist acts in the West have ever had any tan­gi­ble con­nec­tion to the Afghan Tribes­men fight­ing un­der the um­brella name “Afghan Tal­iban.” That’s why Amer­i­can sup­port for con­tin­ued U.S. mil­i­tary in­volve­ment in Afghanistan is ra­zor thin. The lack of sup­port is not a func­tion of a de­clin­ing na­tional “will to fight.” In­stead, Amer­i­cans rea­son­ably ques­tion what we’re do­ing there.

The truth is that no amount of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary power or cap­i­tal in­vest­ment will “fix” Afghanistan. Washington’s only ra­tio­nal course of ac­tion is to with­draw Amer­i­can forces with the pub­licly stated un­der­stand­ing that how the peo­ple of Afghanistan choose to gov­ern them­selves is their busi­ness. In the mean­time, Washington must ac­cept the fact that the states with vi­tal strate­gic in­ter­ests at stake in Afghanistan — Iran, Rus­sia, In­dia, Pak­istan and, more dis­tantly, China — will reen­gage.

The truth is that no amount of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary power or cap­i­tal in­vest­ment will “fix” Afghanistan.

His­tory is lit­tered with politi­cians that lacked the courage to face un­pleas­ant facts; men who stuck with poli­cies and strate­gies long past the point when it made no sense to do so. President Harry Tru­man was not one of them. Tru­man had the courage to back Gen. Dou­glas MacArthur’s plan to en­velop the North Kore­ans at In­chon when the Joint Chiefs uni­ver­sally op­posed it. And President Tru­man had the courage to re­move MacArthur when MacArthur in­sisted on widen­ing the Korean War to China.

Tru­man’s ex­am­ple points the way for President Trump. The sooner Mr. Trump acts to re­move Amer­i­can forces from Afghanistan, the sooner he can fo­cus on the is­sues that shape the “Amer­ica First” agenda; the restora­tion of eco­nomic pros­per­ity and home­land de­fense — the security of U.S. land bor­ders and coastal waters to cope with the crim­i­nal­ity and ter­ror­ism em­a­nat­ing from the Caribbean Basin and Mex­ico. Dou­glas Macgre­gor, a re­tired U.S. Army colonel and dec­o­rated com­bat veteran, is the au­thor of “Mar­gin of Vic­tory” (Naval In­sti­tute Press, 2016).


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