As the 100-day mark of the Trump presidency comes to pass, observers have seen an unusual number of military actions, deployments, statements and announcements for such a short period at the beginning of a president’s term.
While it was clear when President Trump took office that the U.S. was already engaged in a number of active conflicts around the globe, one of Trump’s policy pillars was that he wanted to extricate the United States from costly overseas engagements and reduce the U.S.’s role as policeman in the world.
Trump vowed that to accomplish this, he might have to “fire” Army generals former President Obama had placed in positions of command in conflicts Trump had termed disasters, such as Libya and Iraq. He also said that he wanted to take a different, more aggressive approach when it came to defeating ISIS.
Despite the president being wary of wading into many of these conflicts, he chose a record number of active-duty and retired military men for his political appointments, including retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in the role of National Security Advisor.
However, Democrat and globalist forces surrounding the president never wanted Flynn in the role he was chosen for, and they immediately set to work attempting to sabotage his appointment before it even began. For the globalists, Flynn’s political perspectives on everything from Syria to Russia didn’t fit their vision of a military-industrial complex continuing to use war to justify huge expenditures of taxpayer money and the stationing of American troops overseas.
Flynn wanted to see Russia as a partner of the United States, as opposed to an adversary. Likewise, he was against committing ground troops in Syria and could clearly see the battle between the secular government there and Sunni Wahhabist extremists that make up ISIS.
In fact, Flynn is a dedicated opponent of Islamic radical terrorism, calling Islam a “cancerous” political ideology. In controversial Twitter posts, he stated that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL” and included a link to a video that claimed the religion wants “80 percent of people enslaved or exterminated.” Flynn was an ardent early supporter of Trump’s travel ban to six Muslim countries.
However, just 24 days after he started his job, Flynn was forced to resign for allegedly improper contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States. He was threatened with being charged under the Logan Act, a statute that had never been used to prosecute someone previously in its 218-year legal existence.
Perhaps sensing a “message” was being sent to him, Trump then chose someone very different for the National Security Advisor role. The new appointee was Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who holds many views that objective observers would say are quite the opposite of Flynn’s.
First of all, McMaster sees Russia as a threat and an adversary, rather than as a partner. On that stance, he disagrees with both President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin’s government in 2013.
Secondly, McMaster believes that ground troops may be necessary in Syria, both to fight ISIS and possibly also the Syrian government.
Thirdly, McMaster has vocally criticized Trump’s use of phrases such as “radical Islamic terrorism,” (however, he’s since been overruled by other people in Trump’s cabinet, such as populist Chief of Staff Steve Bannon). In the past, McMaster has instructed troops under his command not to denigrate Muslims for their faith and to learn about Islamic dress, customs, religious rituals and etiquette.
“In Iraq,” McMaster has written, “an inadequate understanding of tribal, ethnic, and religious drivers of conflict… sometimes led to military operations (such as raids against suspected enemy networks) that exacerbated fears or offended the sense of honor of populations in ways that strengthened the insurgency.”
Of course, this advice hasn’t necessarily had positive effects; at least 21 troops directly under McMaster were killed in Tal Afar on the Iraq-Syrian border and another unit operating under him suffered 40 percent casualties. Just the same, it’s safe to say that as opposed to Lt. Gen. Flynn, Lt. Gen. McMaster is most certainly considered a “war hawk.”
It should also be said that McMaster has continued loyalties to former U.S. Central Command general and subsequent Director of the CIA David Petraeus. Petraeus held both of those positions under former President Obama.
In fact, there’s been talk in Washington that McMaster’s newly proposed plans for a ground invasion of Syria — which call for up to 150,000 U.S. troops — were developed in conjunction with Petraeus. Some political watchers had thought Petraeus might have had a shot at McMaster’s job, but Petraeus has baggage that McMaster doesn’t — he was convicted of mishandling classified information in 2012 while serving as CIA Director.
McMaster’s appointment to his role instead of Petraeus (whose security clearance has been revoked) means that Petraeus may have influence over the position without having to be in the national spotlight and/or be limited by the accountability of his former protégé.
As National Security Advisor, McMaster sits on the National Security Council (NSC) with other members of Trump’s cabinet. Joining him as Trump’s top advisor on the Middle East is Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) executive service member Derek Harvey, who worked directly under Gen. Petraeus in Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida.
Harvey was assigned by Petraeus to “create [a new] intelligence agency inside CentCom,” according to veteran journalist Bob Woodward in his excellent book, “Obama’s Wars.” Harvey headed this organization, which was called the “Afghanistan-Pakistan Center of Excellence” and “threw his life into the job,” according to Woodward.
“He started each morning at 4 a.m., worked 15-hour days and rarely slept through the night. This obsession came at a personal cost; Harvey’s wife filed for divorce.”
Regarding the war in Afghanistan, Harvey concluded, “the war could be won, but the U.S. government would have to make monumental long-term commitments for years that might be unpalatable with voters.”
As of today, the conflict in Afghanistan is America’s longest-running war, with 2,356 military deaths, 1,582 contractor deaths and 19,950 American troops injured (in addition to at least 15,000 contractor injuries) in the last 16 years. There’s no end in sight for the conflict, even though officially, American troops are no longer allowed to proactively fire on enemy troops.
Joining McMaster and Harvey in the NSC is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who held the same position under President Obama as well as previously functioning as the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan under the ex-president.
In February, President Trump met with the two generals who are on the ground fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, General Tony Thomas of the U.S. Special Operations Command and General Joseph Votel of the U.S. Central Command.
According to globalist mouthpiece The Atlantic magazine, the “generals don’t much like to talk about ‘winning’ against terrorism. They understand and tell the public and Congress that the United States is in a 10-, 30-, 100- year battle against a multi-generational ideological war of ideas that goes far beyond the military battlefield. In that context, what is ‘winning’?”
Both generals told Trump they fully support former President Obama’s plan for Syria, which consisted of “fighting ISIS through U.S. trained local forces, instead of fighting terrorists directly with large numbers of American ground troops.” General Thomas is quoted as using the excuse that “At the end of the day, the places we defeat ISIS need to be owned by the local people and be governed by the local people; that’s what we’re hoping.”
Of course, left unsaid is that many of these “local forces” are aligned with or may even be the same people that compose ISIS and al-Qaeda, and this strategy has largely been responsible for prolonging the conflict in Syria for the last five years, during which period at least 500,000 civilians have died.
Gen. Dunford has been working with the Pentagon to present a “whole-of-government” plan for Syria to President Trump, calling for “non-military” agencies to assist in the defeat of ISIS. This sounds much like Obama-era talk of aid money, weapons and other resources being covertly given to the Syrian opposition, much of which seemed to eventually find its way to ISIS (an organization that pays its mercenary soldiers in U.S. dollars).
Helping Dunford in this effort is Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who was the general who replaced David Petraeus as the head of U.S. Central Command when Petraeus took over command of forces in Afghanistan from General Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal had resigned from his role following an unflattering portrait of remarks in a Rolling Stone magazine article in 2009.
In one of his first acts as Secretary of Defense, Mattis called Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to “reaffirm the importance of the U.S.-Saudi Arabia strategic relationship.” Since then, Mattis has strongly voiced his support for Saudi Arabian military campaigns in Yemen.
In February, he pressed for the boarding of an Iranian ship anchored in the Arabian Sea to search for contraband and weapons. It should be noted that Iran is among Saudi Arabia’s bitterest enemies. Mattis said that “[Iran] has a lot to gain from turmoil in the region that ISIS creates.”
He supports bolstering the intelligence agencies of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and has argued for providing weapons to Syrian opposition groups as a way to fight Iranian proxy forces in the latter country. He also supports a two-state solution for Israeli-Palestinian peace and has argued that President Trump’s view of allies not supporting organizations such as NATO is “nuts.”
Whether Mattis and Dunford’s plans for Syria win out or Lt. Gen. McMaster’s (and David Petraeus’) do, it seems clear that the conflict in the region will continue for the medium- and possibly long-term future.
With so many figures pushing for further battles in the Middle East, President Trump has virtually thrown his hands up in the air. In late March, the president announced he had granted day-to-day authority for drone strikes and specific military attacks in the area to the Pentagon and the CIA. Whether this was a voluntary act of frustration, an attempt not to have “blood on his hands” or was the result of military prodding is unknown.
While it’s true that Trump is the one who ordered the strike of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian airfield in response to recent chemical attacks in that country, it’s still unclear who was behind the attacks, despite Trump accusing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
There are plenty of online critics, including MIT Professor Emeritus Theodore Postol, who argue there’s strong case to be made that some of the attack evidence is fabricated, as it was in other attacks that took place in Syria in 2013.
To be sure, President Trump appears to be more in command of the other current military crisis in Asia, however, it must be said that he’s consulting heavily with military sources regarding North Korean threat capabilities. At the end of the day, specific decisions about which missile base to attack there or when are likely the responsibility of Pentagon top brass, rather than the president.
Even though Trump is a graduate of military boarding school, defense matters are not his forté. His career prior to 2017 has been in the private sector. Although he knows a lot about leadership, perhaps one of the most valuable lessons he’s learned is when not to offer one’s opinion to someone more powerful.
A lot of money flows through Defense Department coffers, and although Trump has promised to boost military spending, the devil in such commitments is often in the details. On these matters, it might be said that Trump is still going to school, and hasn’t yet reached graduation.