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theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer. katherine molé mfa ... art director
Friday, December 28, 2018
A Potential Trump DOCTRINE
Illustration on a potential Trump Doctrine by Alexander Hunter L. Scott Lingamfelter
In what is his latest act of productive disruption, President Donald J. Trump’s announcement last week to withdraw U.S. armed forces from Syria may have offered him a unique opportunity to reshape American military engagement in the world
The president’s declaration precipitated the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a departure long rumored. His critics are apoplectic about both Mr. Mattis and the policy. But the policy change could have major implications for America’s involvement in future insurgency conflicts, combat that can be long and costly.
For 17 years, America has been engaged in insurgencies that have consumed much in U.S. blood and treasure. There is a lot to critique about these wars. But not now. We should, however, examine how to meter and moderate the American response to insurgency war in a manner consistent with our vital national interests and our instincts as a people. That war should only occur when peaceful means are exhausted is a sine qua non. This is consistent with America’s distaste for foreign conflict, as typified by our hesitancy to enter WWI and WWII as well as our initial tolerance of and eventual impatience with both the Korean and Vietnam wars. We like our wars clear, short and victorious. The first Gulf War, Desert Storm, met this high standard. Those that followed didn’t.
It’s instinctive in the American psyche to avoid being an occupying power anywhere. We have enough problems at home. Nor do Americans seek to waste blood and treasure. We have overdrawn on that account during the chain of insurgencies that have involved, imperiled and inhumed many of our young people in recent years. Mr. Trump wants an about-face on this.
But he should do so cautiously because, like it or not, a sudden disengagement from Syria would mimic the 2011 ill-advised and precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by the feckless Obama administration, a move that gave rise to ISIS. Having nearly eradicated the pestilential threat from ISIS, a reinfection must be prevented. Yet, Mr. Trumpis instinctively right to begin Syrian disentanglement. In doing so, he can accomplish two important things. First, successfully conclude American’s role in yet another insurgency. Second, set forth a vision — a Trump Doctrine — for U.S. engagement in future conflicts of this nature. A new strategy, coupled with a wise and artful conclusion in Syria, can be the first articulation of an overarching doctrine concerning U.S. involvement in insurgencies we deem to be in our vital national interests.
Initially, the United States should implement a tactical transition, while maintaining strategic sustainment in the Syrian conflict, both of which are necessary to ensure our geo-political predominance in the Middle East as trustworthy agents for peace. To initiate this tactical transition, Mr. Trump should call for an immediate summit to build a coalition of U.S., Turkish, Arab and Kurdish forces to shape a ground contingent to finalize suppression and ultimate destruction of ISIS while reviving and reconstructing the people and lands ISIS has victimized and ransacked. Tangentially, this new cooperation might even inspire a concomitant dtente among old adversaries, primarily between Turkey, the Kurds and Saudi Arabia.
The primary U.S. role in this coalition, however, should be one of strategic sustainment characterized by stand-off power-projection — air and missile strikes, intelligence and special operations — in support of regional and indigenous ground forces to ensure victory. This way Mr. Trump can realize his desire to finalize the destruction of ISIS while avoiding the charge that we abandoned the fight in an Obama-like fashion. Being reliable in our pursuits in the Middle East is essential to sustaining our legitimate geo-political predominance in the region if we are to form other coalitions to counter Iranian hegemony, to say nothing of reviving peace negotiations between Arabs and Israelis.
If the president can skillfully accomplish disengagement in Syria while also completing our work to exterminate ISIS and alleviate the suffering they have wrought, he will have set in motion the establishment of a political-military architecture for a “Trump Doctrine of Justified Intervention” (TDJI). Such a doctrine would call for supporting insurgency conflicts with regional coalitions and stand-off capabilities where our national interests clearly reside, absent entangling America in debilitating and costly wars. Done correctly, he will have found the intersection between hawkish over-engagement and isolationist non-intervention in the employment of U.S. military power in insurgencies when such use and involvement is both jus ad bellum and jus in bello.
Shaping a TDJI, would — once again — demonstrate that Mr. Trump’s penchant for productive disruption can lead to solving a problem that has vexed America since terrorists attacked us on 9-11. His critics want to make this all about a departing secretary of Defense. Mr. Trump should show them he has a wider interest in mind that transcends personalities and inside-the-Beltway anxiety. It’s called peace.
• L. Scott Lingamfelter is a retired U.S. Army colonel, combat veteran and Middle East Foreign Area Officer. He also served in the Virginia General Assembly.