Trump’s Last Hurrah?

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It appears that during his seven months stint in office, President Trump has little to show for what may be called foreign policy successes. He has repeated a number of times that he wants to make “America great again” but appears to have taken a contrarian path to achieving this nebulous goal. He has disdained America’s alliances crafted and nurtured after World War Two. His nod toward Europe, a long standing ally, has been perfunctory as well as has been his equally cool reaction to the British Prime Minister’s obsequious reiteration of a special relationship between that island country and the United States. The only stand out has been his somewhat puzzling deference to the United States’ traditional antagonist, Russia. Trump appears to have bent over backwards not to criticize President Putin. This approach has naturally excited considerable interest in the global commentariat, who are wondering what kind of hold if any Putin has over Trump.

President Trump has now unveiled in a major speech to a US armed forces gathering, his new policy on Afghanistan. For the past four years or more he had been consistently tweeting that the US should withdraw from the quagmire of Afghanistan and blaming President Obama for it. In his recent speech he has reversed himself and now wishes to induct an unspecified number of American troops to continue the war against the Taliban and the terrorists who may be operating in that war-destroyed country. I suppose he is pointing principally toward the Al Qaeda and ISIS elements who have shown their presence in Afghanistan. According to some media reports yet to be confirmed, Trump intends to inject a further 4000 or so American troops in Afghanistan to bolster the flagging fortunes of the beleaguered Afghan National Army. His speech has not made clear whether these additional troops plus the eight thousand or so already in position in Afghanistan, will now be required to assume an aggressive front line posture against the Taliban or whether they will continue to play an advisory role to the Afghan troops.

The conflict in Afghanistan has earned the distinction of being the US’s longest war in its history. This war pits Pashtun Afghan against his ethic compatriot. The Afghan Pashtuns constitute the majority ethnic community in Afghanistan. Undoubtedly Trump must have had a crash course on Afghanistan at the recent Camp David retreat where senior American military officers briefed him. They may have told him, depending upon their own knowledge of Afghan history, that no foreign occupier has been able to defeat the Afghan opposition forces. Also that even the second most powerful superpower, the Soviet Union, was forced to retreat from Afghanistan in 1989 after a ten year war against the Afghan resistance.

Ominously the Taliban are not only holding their ground against the Afghan National Army but seem to be adding to their territorial enlargement by capturing territory in northern Afghanistan. Therefore the statement by Trump that the US will defeat the terrorists and kill them appears to be Polyannish to some observers. What has also disturbed a number of US policy makers and others is the open ended commitment by Trump to a military engagement with the Taliban, which after subduing them and bringing them to heel, may lead to a political solution. To me this scenario does not look either convincing or realistic. The Taliban have been quick to suggest that the continuing American military presence in Afghanistan would constitute a “graveyard for the Americans”.

Trump has also unleashed strong words against Pakistan suggesting that this non-NATO ally has been providing safe havens to the terrorists who are killing American soldiers. The Pakistan government and politicians have rejected these charges. Imran Khan, a prominent politician, has dubbed these allegations as an attempt to scapegoat Pakistan. Many observers have recognized Pakistan’s front line role in the War against Terrorism in which thousands of army soldiers and civilians have sacrificed their lives fighting extremist groups. Sometimes it seems that the United States expects to subcontract its war in Afghanistan to the Pakistan army which the latter is not in a position to deliver. In any case, threatening Pakistan through the rhetoric which he has employed against other countries also, is unlikely to make much difference. Undoubtedly Pakistan has its interests in Afghanistan which may not dovetail exactly with those of the United States, but it does not do much good to antagonize the one state which can and which has been trying to work toward a political solution among the stakeholders in Afghanistan. Trump certainly needs to heed the advice of its career diplomats in the State Department whom he appears to have sidelined or spurned so far to guide him towards a mature and responsible approach in the foreign policy field. So far he has acted more like a babe in the woods.

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