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The Diplomacy Brief: A New Afghan Strategy, Rex Tillerson, German Elections and Political Islam

A New Strategy?

On Monday President Trump announced his much-speculated strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the United States’ longest war having been waged for almost 17 years giving it the dark moniker by some “The Forever War.”

There had been a great deal of speculation regarding the president’s plan given the conflicting reports coming out of the Whitehouse. President Trump, who never made his skepticism of the war secret on his Twitter feed, early in his administration ordered a comprehensive review of the war’s strategy and possible options. If Mr. Trump wished to follow his instincts and end the war he soon ran into the geopolitical reality that both Presidents Obama and Bush faced of what a collapsing Afghanistan would mean for regional security competition.

Factional fissures began to emerge in the administration, and two dueling plans emerged. Those members of the administration we might refer to as the “military establishment, personified by Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, argued for a troop surge of around 4,000 additional troops to stabilize the country and retake the ground lost to the Taliban. On the other hand, Presidential Advisor Steve Bannon, who left the administration this month, argued for an extremely unorthodox plan to privatize the war itself. Erik Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and founder of the private security company Blackwater, proposed in an Op-ed for the Wall Street Journal to use a mercenary force akin to the British East-India Company to stabilize the country. Media reports out of the Whitehouse reported that this idea gained significant traction with Mr. Bannon and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner both of which often have the president’s ear.

On Monday, the president decided to side with the generals on his staff. Although at first he referenced his anti-interventionist instincts, he later explained that after consultation with his advisors he decided that we must continue the fight in Afghanistan. Although Mr. Trump did not mention specific troop numbers, many assume from conversations with top military officials that it will be a deployment of around 4,000, in accordance with the plan that Generals McMaster and Mattis had originally argued.

Mr. Trump also made other interesting points regarding a possible tougher stance on Pakistan and an end to “Nation Building” in Afghanistan. However, on the whole, is this Strategy a break from the past or more of the same? This inaugural posting of our Diplomacy Brief will attempt to answer that question with analysis from across the field of International Relations on Mr. Trump’s new strategy.


Opinions on the Afghanistan Strategy

  • Susan Glasser from Politico argues that the President’s new strategy illustrates that there are No New Ideas in Afghanistan. Although the President claims that America will once again “fight to win” Ms. Glasser claims that the modest troop increase is merely to prevent defeat in a war that many analysts have deemed unwinnable.
  • Andrew Exum, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy for the Obama Administration, writes in the Atlantic on When Will Enough Be Enough in Afghanistan? Exum also argues that Mr. Trump will likely fall short of his victory and be forced to settle for avoiding defeat but asks the more poignant question of how much blood and treasure can we expend in Afghanistan when there are priorities elsewhere?
  • Zalmay Khalilzad, a former ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq argues in the New York Times that Trump Is Right to Get Tough With Pakistan. Mr. Khalilzad applauds Mr. Trump for ditching the time commitments that he believes hampered the Obama administration and lays out concrete steps the Trump administration can take to pressure Pakistan into ending it’s so called “double game.”
  • Krishnadev Calamur, also writing in the Atlantic, asks How the U.S. Can Pressure Pakistan by summarizing the views of several experts on the possibilities and pitfalls of Mr. Trump’s plan. In his analysis, Mr. Calamur runs into a seemingly unanswerable question. How can the US place significant pressure on Afghanistan when any political solution to the conflict runs through Islamabad?

What we are reading in IR

  • In Foreign Policy, Max Boot, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that Time Is Up on Rex Tillerson. Mr. Boot takes Tillerson to task on failing to both support the State Department itself in the face of President Trump’s significant budget cuts and for casting aside values like democracy promotion and human rights in American Diplomacy.
  • Writing in The New York Times, Jochen Bittner, claims that The German Election Season Is Quiet. Too Quiet. Bittner laments that despite being faced with a plethora of issues, the campaigns for Chancellor seems to be devoid of just that. Looking abroad many Germans must feel lucky about the boring stability of their politics, but Mt. Bittner asks, is that what is truly best for German Democracy?
  • In The Economist, the cover story makes the strong argument that Blanket Repression is the wrong way to deal with political Islamists. In the twilight of the Arab Spring, many have strong doubts about the role political Islamists can play in a democracy. The failure of Islamist governments and the flourishing of Jihadism has forced many to seek authoritarian solutions to limit Islamist political expression. To the editors of The Economist, to lump ISIS and Tunisia’s Ennahda together is as ludicrous as “saying social democrats are just like Italy’s Red Brigades because they all read Karl Marx”

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