The Trump Afghanistan/Indian Sub Continent/South Asia Doctrine:
Last night, August 21/2017, President Trump outlined his Afghanistan foreign policy plan as part of his Afghanistan/Indian Subcontinent/South Asia foreign policy. He has been asking his advisors for months “What does winning in Afghanistan look like”? Trump drilled down on the result first, forcing his advisors to start with the conclusion then working a strategy to achieve that result… He kept questioning their approaches until he was able to formulate a foreign policy that may achieve a result that benefits United States self-interest. What has evolved is a doctrine that seeks to bring together a real diverse, and challenging “coalition” of disparate interest and nations.
Strategic Change: Afghans Determine their Future
Inside of Trump’s address, was the notion that the US has no interest in defining the political self-governance structure of Afghanistan. GW Bush and the Neo-Cons had the goal of establishing a western-style democracy over a country that is absolutely tribal in nature, with war lords as their overseers, with no experience in self-governing other than within the tribe. This concept was doomed for failure at the outset especially when you add in the fact that these peoples were Muslim. Islam has its own inherent governance structure.
Afghanistan is NOT a country made up of homogenous ethnic peoples with the same self-interests or even share any historical commonality. There are 8 major ethnic groups within the current Afghan borders that were defined in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s by the British, Russia, and China. The resulting “country” was basically a corral around a many peoples, most of which knew little or nothing about the other. The map below will give you an idea of how disparate the ethnic make-up of Afghanistan is.
Don’t make the mistake and try to draw a comparison to our republic that is made of 50 States. The closest US analogy would be if the Christopher Columbus had drawn a line around the US and told all of the tribes of native peoples (Indians) and island dwellers, that they had to be subservient to Washington DC (I know it did not exist in 1492). Further, that they had to vote for the central government leadership! It is pretty amazing how clueless our own leadership is!
President Trump recognized that for the US to try to superimpose a central government over Afghanistan is a fool’s folly. He stated point-blank that he has no interest in meddling in the Afghans governance. While this one message is subtle, it is key to recognize that an Afghan western-style democracy cannot be a criteria for success!
Primary Success Criteria: Eliminate Terrorist Haven in Afghanistan
President Trump stated that there are 20 separate terrorist groups in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. His number one success criteria is the elimination of terrorist organizations from Afghanistan and allowing the terrorist organization from reconstituting in Pakistan. Period!
This is not simple and contains many tactical changes to give this a fighting chance. Trump stated he will incorporate changes to achieve this goal:
- Rules of Engagement: The President stated that he will take off the restraints on our commanders and soldiers and allow them to fight to win. This will include the elimination of having embedded LAWYERS making the decision as to whether a soldier can fire on someone planting an IED! How stupid is it to read a terrorist his “Miranda Rights”! Further, that in-field tactical decision-making will not require approval from Washington and that the Military command will be empowered to take the fight to the criminals and terrorist, this is critical that we fight both, and eliminate them as a threat.
- Focus on the Fight: The US will no longer be in the business of nation building. Our troops will no longer be building roads and buildings but focused on killing terrorist. Period.
- Eliminate Cross-Border Safe Havens: The President also said that they will pressure Pakistan, apply real pressure and not just lip service, to not object to the US bombing terrorist havens inside of the Pakistan border with Afghanistan. Today, the terrorist scurry across the border and we do not pursue them. Trump will use our aid to Pakistan and other economic incentives to coerce the Pakistan Government to cooperate with the US. He will also seek to isolate their nuclear weapons even more to ensure they do not fall into the hands of the terrorists.
- Stalemate China: China has been a long-term player in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and are close neighbors with the former sharing a small border with China. China has also been instrumental in the nuclearization of Pakistan! The US will have to put pressure on China to keep them from interfering in our efforts to work with Pakistan to eliminate the terrorist from the region.
- Stalemate Russia: The old Soviet Union bordered Afghanistan and had long sought to take over the Afghan mineral deposits. Since the Progressive Left has interfered with Trump’s ability to work with Russia on Syria and other common issues, it will be difficult for the President to stalemate Russia. That said, Trump will do everything he can to insure that Russian arming of the militants is minimized. Russia shares many of our concerns for militant Islam and hopefully Trump will be able to overcome the “Russia Fever” that the left has created in our country.
- All Out War: Trump will also wage a war to win and focus less on pressures to fight a “gentlemen’s war”. He has already increased bombings by over 182% since taking office. He will use special forces, air power, cyber, and increase commitments from NATO and other allies. He may run into some resistance from some NATO allies as he talks the gloves off. The French, for example, don’t like to fight at night! Amazing. Trump will also push the envelope in terms of pure fire power using even more MOABs to get the attention of the Terrorists.
- Engage the War Lords: Trump’s team recognizes the role the regional war lords play in running Afghanistan. Trump will have to prevail on them to cease sheltering and aiding any of the terrorists. If he can persuade them that the US is not supporting a centralization of an Afghan government and allow the war lords to have a larger role in Afghanistan’s future, he may win most of them over.
Second Success Criteria: Reduce the US Financial Commitment
Trump was subtle in his speech to enlist more financial support from Afghanistan, NATO and even India! He is focused on $$$ and the US need to get others to help foot the bills that benefit others as well as the US. He will probably tell Tillerson that he will take care of this part of the diplomatic effort!
- Afghanistan Financial Support: Remember Trump talking about the Iraq war and that we should have “taken” some of the oil as repayment for our economic commitment to “liberating” Iraq? Well, Afghanistan’s mineral and gemstone wealth is estimated at 1-3 Trillion dollars and include: barite, chromite, coal, copper, gold, iron ore, lead, natural gas, petroleum, precious and semi-precious stones, salt, sulfur, talc, zinc, emerald, lapis lazuli, red garnet and ruby. Trump will probably seek to bring in international companies to help Afghanistan develop these resources and use part of the proceeds to offset our costs in the war effort. Trump will also have to replace Afghanistan’s largest cash crop, poppies for opioid sales, with other sources of income for the war lords. This change is needed to help rid the world markets of cheap opioids.
- NATO: Trump will ask NATO to increase their financial and military commitment to the Afghan Terrorist War as well. NATO has already stated that they approve of the Trump Doctrine in South Asia and are open to discussions moving forward.
- India: India is an interesting inclusion into the increased economic support for fighting terrorist in Afghanistan. First of all, India is not a Muslim majority country and is in fact the home of the Sikhs who are enemies of the Muslims. India would love to see the US exert more pressure on Pakistan as the two are also enemies in both religion and politics. A more stable South Asia would benefit India and allow it to focus even more on its economic development and somewhat less on national defense. The President seeks to pressure India, via its trade advantage with the US, to have India supply economic aid in Afghanistan in various forms. At best, this will challenge even Trump’s “Art of the Deal” skills. The overall alliance will include Muslims (both Sunni and Shia), Hindu, Sikhs, and a handful of others! The alliance does, however, form a solid base for a true South Asia policy that includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Indian sub continent. (May be easier than repealing Obamacare in Congress though)
The goals of the strategic change in Afghan self-determination, the defeat of terrorism in Afghanistan and to some degree Pakistan, and the Cost-Sharing goals to reduce US economic commitment to Afghanistan, define Trump’s success in Afghanistan. If this succeeds with this “odd” alliance of players, it will have long-standing benefits in South Asia and help to stabilize a Post-Soviet South Asia. If we do not succeed according to a time-table only Trump knows, we may pull out of Afghanistan sometime in the future.
There are many other facets of this doctrine that will be fleshed out in the coming months. Trump will let the Generals and the troops do their jobs but will keep pressure on Mattis and his staff to keep their eye on the ball. He will also make sure the Treasury is doing all they can to cut off the supply of funding to the terrorist and keep other cabinet members contributing in any way they can to assist the fight. Rex Tillerson has a difficult job of keeping the coalition together while maintaining stability in Pakistan and elsewhere. No small task.
Observation: One thing to look for that will differentiate this campaign from our past feeble efforts to rid Afghanistan from Terrorist is a cessation of warfare during the winter months. I would hazard a guess that Trump will seek to keep the terrorist from relaxing during the winter months with a series of asymmetrical attacks by land and air. Sleep deprivation can be a demoralizing factor for sure…