(National Sentinel) Defense: On the campaign trail, then-GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump was complimentary and supportive of the U.S. military, but sometimes critical of America’s war effort in its longest-running conflict in Afghanistan.
And according to information leaked to NBC News, the president’s frustration with the Pentagon’s lack of progress in crafting a new strategy for Afghanistan was made evident during a mid-July meeting with top defense officials at the White House:
During the July 19 meeting, Trump repeatedly suggested that Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford replace Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, because he is not winning the war, the officials said. Trump has not met Nicholson, and the Pentagon has been considering extending his time in Afghanistan.
Over nearly two hours in the situation room, according to the officials, Trump complained about NATO allies, inquired about the United States getting a piece of Afghan’s mineral wealth and repeatedly said the top U.S. general there should be fired. He also startled the room with a story that seemed to compare their advice to that of a paid consultant who cost a tony New York restaurateur profits by offering bad advice.
The report noted further that while Presidents Bush and Obama struggled to come up with a winning strategy in Afghanistan, what set Trump apart from them was that he “appeared to question the quality of the advice” he’s been getting from his defense staff.
During the meeting, Trump criticized his military advisers seated around the table in the White House Situation Room for what he said was a losing U.S. position in the war, according to the senior administration officials. At one point the president directed his frustration at Mattis, saying Trump had given the military authority months ago to make advances in Afghanistan and yet the U.S. was continuing to lose ground, the officials said.
Naturally, NBC News turned to a frequent Trump critic, Sen. Lindsey Graham, for his take, which was this: “If the president doesn’t listen to the generals, like Gen. Nicholson and he goes down the road that President Obama went, Afghanistan is going to collapse. Here’s my advice to the president — listen to people like Gen. Nicholson and McMaster and others who have been in the fight.”
And of course, without anyone at NBC News actually being in the room, reporters there were left to rely on their sources to frame and define the events.
But taking a step back and reexamining the situation from the perspective of understanding that Trump is a results-oriented former businessman, we are left with this question: Shouldn’t the president expect something different than what’s essentially been done, strategy-wise, in Afghanistan for going on 16 years?
The president’s advisers went into the mid-July meeting hoping he would sign off on an Afghanistan strategy after months of delays, officials said. One official said the president’s team has coalesced around a strategy, though it had presented him with other options as well such as complete withdrawal.
Trump, however, appeared to have been significantly influenced by a meeting he’d recently had with a group of veterans of the Afghanistan war, and he was unhappy with the options presented to him.
Trump vented to his national security team that the veterans told him forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have not been helpful, and he lamented that China is making money off of Afghanistan’s estimated $1 trillion in rare minerals while American troops are fighting the war, officials said. Trump expressed frustration that his advisers tasked with figuring out how the U.S. can help American businesses get rights to those minerals were moving too slowly, one official said.
As someone who spent a year in Afghanistan with the Army, I can tell you with confidence the vets are right. Let’s just leave it at that. Many troops from NATO countries are there in support roles, at best, and are rarely in harm’s way. That’s the only way the people of their countries would allow them to participate for as long as we’ve been there; if those countries were losing thousands of troops a year like the U.S., they’d have bailed out years ago. That’s just true.
As for Afghanistan’s mineral riches, what the report leaves out is that many are rare earth minerals vital to a number of strategic and commercial interests, and that deposits there are among the richest, if not the richest, in the world (NBC News knew this in 2014). Plus, Trump’s point is this: China is not losing troops in Afghanistan, and in fact, the Taliban protect or at least don’t harass Chinese mining operations which help provide the Taliban with funding.
So there is much more going on here than NBC News is reporting.
Trump came into office promising voters something different in Afghanistan. Americans fight, bleed and die 8,000 miles away, while taxpayers continue to spend tens of billions of dollars every year, without any visible progress or results.
So the point is, it’s time for a new strategy — one that eventually leads to complete U.S. withdrawal from its longest-running war.
If the president has to shake his fist a couple of times and get agitated at his general staff in order to get that new strategy — if it forces the Pentagon to think outside the box and actually come up with one, then all of this will, of course, have been worth it.
NBC News is making it sound as of this president somehow does not have the right to demand a new, winning strategy for Afghanistan, under his authority as commander-in-chief, after sixteen years of war there.
Trump is exactly right to essentially ask, “What the hell do we need to do to finally get win this thing — and make it worthwhile in the meantime?”
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