As U.S. Adds Troops in Afghanistan, Trump’s Strategy Remains Undefined reports the NY Times.
Hey, look yonder, tell me what’s that you see
Marching to the Afghan war?
It looks like Handsome Johnny with a missile in his hand,
Marching to the Afghan war, hey marching to the Afghan war. …
Sung by Richie Havens at Woodstock.
Here we go again, headed back into a morass without a mission. Only this time it appears that our commander-in-chief has gone AWOL.
WASHINGTON — When President Trump made his first major decision on the war in Afghanistan, he did not announce it in a nationally televised address from the White House or a speech at West Point.
Instead, the Pentagon issued a news release late one afternoon last week confirming that the president had given the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, the authority to send several thousand additional troops to a war that, in its 16th year, engages about 8,800 American troops.
Mr. Trump, who writes avidly on Twitter about war and peace in other parts of the world, said nothing about the announcement. But its effect was unmistakable: He had outsourced the decision on how to proceed militarily in Afghanistan to the Pentagon, a startling break with how former President Barack Obama and many of his predecessors handled the anguished task of sending Americans into foreign conflicts.
… former commanders and military scholars said that in sending troops before having a strategy, Mr. Trump has put the cart before the horse, eroded the tradition of civilian control over the military, and abdicated the president’s duty to announce and defend troop deployments.
“A commander in chief keeps control of limited wars by defining missions, selecting commanders and setting troop levels,” said Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who was a top commander and the American ambassador in Afghanistan. “To delegate any of these is dangerous.”
But Trump has populated his national security positions with former generals with experience in Afghanistan. And it appears they have his ear.
General McMaster — who served in Afghanistan as the head of an anti-corruption task force and is closely allied with Mr. Mattis, another former general with Afghanistan experience — argued passionately to Mr. Trump that the military effort had to be expanded without further delay, according to one official.
The White House is calling its strategy a South Asia policy, to distinguish it from the Obama administration’s so-called Af-Pak policy. Officials said it would include diplomacy with Pakistan, India and even Iran, a nation that American diplomats cooperated with during the early months of the Afghan war but that the White House now sees as a bitter foe.
But the administration’s efforts to harness diplomacy may be handicapped by the depleted condition of the State Department. And that suggests to some that whatever strategy the Trump administration eventually arrives at will be dominated by the military.
Some experts noted that Mr. Trump’s hands-off approach on troop numbers was squarely in the Republican tradition of avoiding anything perceived as micromanaging the military, a criticism frequently leveled at Mr. Obama. But the Pentagon has assumed an even more outsize role in this administration, given a chaotic White House staff and an impulsive, preoccupied president.
"The president doesn’t have the time or interest to make these decisions, so they want to leave the decision-making to Mattis,” said Richard H. Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who advised General McMaster on his doctoral thesis. “They trust Mattis because he’s got the expertise and common sense.”