The president’s Afghanistan speech was direct and to the point.
All of America, at this point, is well familiar with the president’s oft-stated views on foreign policy. The Trump Doctrine essentially boils down to three points:
1. America should always be focused first and foremost on its own national security interests.
2. No nation-building.
These three points were hammered home repeatedly in his recent address to the nation on Afghanistan, as seen here with these excerpts from the speech (emphasis added):
“But we must also acknowledge the reality I am here to talk about tonight: that nearly 16 years after September 11th attacks, after the extraordinary sacrifice of blood and treasure, the American people are weary of war without victory. Nowhere is this more evident than with the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history — 17 years.
“I share the American people’s frustration. I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money, and, most importantly, lives trying to rebuild countries in our own image, instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations. […]
“We are a partner and a friend, but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live, or how to govern their own complex society. We are not nation-building again — we are killing terrorists. […]
“Micromanagement from Washington, D.C., does not win battles; they are won in the field drawing upon the judgment and expertise of wartime commanders and frontline soldiers acting in real time, with real authority, and with a clear mission to defeat the enemy. […]
“America will work with the Afghan government as long as we see determination and progress. However, our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check. […] Our patience is not unlimited. We will keep our eyes wide open.”
In short, this is drawing a line — a bright line — between, as it were, the policy that produced D-Day and the policy that produced Vietnam and (in the Obama era) the losses in Iraq.
There is reason for concern, and it was well expressed by my colleague Daniel Horowitz. To wit:
“The same generals who failed us in Afghanistan for a generation, the same generals who are more political and politically correct than politicians, the same generals who covered up Extortion 17, are now the foxes guarding the henhouse.”
Bingo. That is the caution for sure. History, however, and as always, provides an answer.
One of the lessons of running a winning war is to be found with Abraham Lincoln’s conduct of the Civil War. Lincoln, as with President Trump, came to office quickly confronting the need for a successful military strategy.
As events turned out the 16th president wound up hiring and firing seven — say again, seven — generals. They were, as noted here, “Irwin McDaniel, George B. McClellan (who was rehired and refired), John Pope, Joe Hooker, Franz Sigal (also fired twice), John C. Fremont (also fired twice), and William Rosecrans.”
Famously, Lincoln finally turned to Ulysses S. Grant, who, as noted by the Smithsonian, “had gained Lincoln’s confidence after winning crucial victories at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and elsewhere in the West. In Grant, Lincoln had finally found a general who would muster the full strength of the Union army against the Confederacy.”
And as the legendary story goes, when Lincoln was told Grant drank too much whiskey the president replied that he wanted to know what Grant was drinking so that he could send a case of it to the rest of his generals.
Skip ahead to Korea. Truman famously fired General Douglas MacArthur for insubordination. The war became a stalemate, and an issue in the 1952 presidential campaign. The Republican candidate was the hero of D-Day — General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike promised that, if elected, he would go to Korea. He was elected, in a landslide, and soon headed to Korea to make his own assessment of the war with his practiced military eye.
Upon taking office, he had his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, relay to the Indian government and, hence, to the Chinese Communist government of Mao Zedong that the new U.S. president was prepared to use nuclear weapons if negotiations to end the war post-haste failed. The threat worked. The war ended.
The point is clear: In a situation where generals are not getting the job done, it is up to the president to fire them and fire them again and again until he finds the one Ulysses Grant/Dwight Eisenhower guy who will win.
I would suggest here that President Trump is exactly that kind of Lincoln-esque/Eisenhower-esque president. He is famous for his desire to win — and his promises of America “having so much winning, the country would get sick of winning.” If progress is not made in Afghanistan— and pronto — there is no doubt Trump will be looking quickly for a replacement.
Which is to say, Trump’s basic philosophy is akin to that of another president — Franklin D. Roosevelt. Recall the words of FDR the day after Pearl Harbor: “As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.
“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”
Note well there was nothing in those words that mentioned the words “exit strategy.” FDR — and, across the pond, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill — were about one thing and one thing only: total victory.
So, too, is President Trump. And thank God for that.
Jeffrey Lord is a former White House political director under Reagan. He writes from Pennsylvania and is the author of “What America Needs: The Case for Trump.” Email him at [email protected].