No Time to Talk

No Time to Talk
Sat Feb 10, 2018 12:06:25

Trump’s foreign policy is all military, no diplomacy. We’re starting to see the consequences.

slate--  Here is the baffling absurdity of America’s position in the world right now: We are getting more deeply embroiled in two wars and flirting with starting another. Our top military officers say (and have long said) that none of these wars have a military solution but rather must be settled politically. Yet the Trump administration is pouring in more troops, and expanding their missions, while doing little or nothing to conceive, much less pursue, a political course of action.

The two current wars are in Afghanistan and Syria; the third may erupt in North Korea. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is one of the officers—in his case, a retired Marine four-star general—who has poured cold water on the notion that we can kill our way to victory. He has said repeatedly that he the reason he needs more military assets and a wider military presence is to give our diplomats the leverage to make peace. But as more troops head into battle, our diplomats are dormant: crucial appointments remain unfilled; veteran foreign service officers are fleeing in droves; and the one time that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opened a back-door negotiation with the North Koreans, President Trump slammed it shut. So we just dig ourselves deeper in conflicts that those in charge don’t know how to fight or win—that may be unwinnable.

Afghanistan is a classic, and tragic, case in point. The contradictions were clear long before Trump entered the White House. From nearly the beginning, the top brass—Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, who were commanders, and Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—said time after time that, ultimately, a political deal would have to be struck with the Taliban. But they also insisted that negotiations shouldn’t begin until U.S. forces and the Afghan army win more battles and wrest back more land, in order to acquire a stronger bargaining position.

The war is now in its 17th year, and this upper hand is as elusive as ever. Meanwhile, the ceaseless fighting is plunging the country more deeply into chaos, the government in Kabul remains mired in corruption (a problem that would preclude victory, Adm. Mullen once said, no matter how many troops we sent), and the Taliban—as well as the more radical ISIS—are gaining ground.

It is time to figure out just what we want as a minimally acceptable outcome of this war (something that no administration has systematically done) and to start talks aimed at achieving it (something that this administration has neither the personnel nor the inclination to do).

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