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New Afghanistan Plan Could Offer Clues to 'Trump Doctrine'

New Afghanistan Plan Could Offer Clues to 'Trump Doctrine'
President Donald Trump's advisers say his Afghan strategy reflects a consistent world view, both in terms of America's overseas objectives and the tactics to achieve them. But it's too soon to say whether he is being driven by a well-formed doctrine or merely coining catchphrases on the fly. (Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

Wednesday, 23 August 2017 02:46 PM

Never tip your hand to the enemy. No timelines for military operations. No free pass for a neighbor who tolerates extremists or enables U.S. foes.

In President Donald Trump's new Afghanistan strategy, elements of a broader approach to America's most pressing national security concerns begin to emerge, consistent with his efforts in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Though details are limited, the plan draws on organizing principles that also are woven throughout his plans for defeating the Islamic State group and containing the threats posed by North Korea and Iran.

Trump's advisers say his Afghan strategy reflects a consistent world view, both in terms of America's overseas objectives and the tactics to achieve them. But it's too soon to say whether he is being driven by a well-formed doctrine or merely coining catchphrases on the fly.

"We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists," Trump said in his Monday night speech. He was striving to differentiate his plan from failed approaches of the past.

As a candidate and then as president, Trump has eluded those who have tried to identify core beliefs that can reliably predict how he'll approach any given issue. Critics have painted him as a foreign policy novice, focused only on somehow showing he's winning.

Trump ran on a nationalist pledge to put "America First." But he explained this week that things look different from the Oval Office. Conceding he was overriding an initial instinct to withdraw from Afghanistan, he peppered his speech with vows to empower commanders and to squeeze Pakistan for harboring the Taliban.

While Trump has cast his approach as a fundamental shift from other presidents, he's borrowed more from them than he's inclined to admit.

George W. Bush, too, sought to pressure Pakistan to crack down on the Taliban, even as he focused far more on an idea Trump is explicitly rejecting: promoting democracy around the world.

And Trump's limited approach owes something to Barack Obama, who in his second term scaled back U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and settled on a counterterror-focused mission not dissimilar from the new American strategy.

A look at the pillars of Trump's foreign policy:

The days of the U.S. military trying to "construct democracies" are over, Trump declared. Instead, he said "principled realism" will guide U.S. decisions.

That means there will be none of Bush's "nation-building" — no expansive goal to build up Afghanistan's institutions and ensure the education of girls once the U.S. ultimately withdraws.

Trump's approach in Syria is similar. There, as the Islamic State is ousted from its last major strongholds and a power vacuum results, Trump's administration has said it wants to help restore electricity, water and sewage in areas freed from IS — but no more. In Iraq, the situation is somewhat easier because there's a globally backed central government.

In Afghanistan, some questions still must be cleared up. Despite his vow of non-interference, Trump emphasized he could hold back future military and economic aid unless the Afghan government combats problems including rampant corruption.

"We're not going to tell these countries how to govern, but we're going to condition our assistance on reforms — that's an internal contradiction," said James Dobbins, a senior diplomat in the past three administrations and former special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Of all the critiques of Trump's plan, the loudest is that he declined to tell Americans how many more U.S. troops will be sent to Afghanistan after 16 years of fighting.

His rationale is simple: Deny the Taliban and other extremists the advantage of anticipating U.S. military moves.

However, the contours of the Pentagon's plan have been known for months. Senior officials said Tuesday up to 3,900 more troops will go, some possibly within days.

Being unpredictable to U.S. adversaries has been a consistent Trump focus. The president was similarly coy in April in the days before he attacked Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces for using chemical weapons. He has repeatedly refused to entertain questions about a potential pre-emptive attack on North Korea.

"We don't talk about that. I never do," Trump has said.

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In President Donald Trump's new Afghanistan strategy, elements of a broader approach to America's most pressing national security concerns begin to emerge, consistent with his efforts in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.
trump doctrine, afghanistan strategy, us, donald trump
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2017-46-23
Wednesday, 23 August 2017 02:46 PM
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