Many news outlets have seized on the troop level issue from President Trump’s speech on Monday night, citing what will surely be an inevitable decision to send more troops to Afghanistan as evidence of Trump bowing to the demands of Generals, or flip-flopping, or both.
But buried inside a speech full of strong statements on the need for achieving victory on the battlefield in Afghanistan was a glimpse into Trump’s emerging foreign policy doctrine, one that will be first demonstrated with his Afghanistan strategy.
“We will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands or try to rebuild other countries in our own image,” Trump said. “Those days are now over.”
“We are not asking others to change their way of life, but to pursue common goals that allow our children to live better and safer lives. This principled realism will guide our decisions moving forward.”
Now, other members of his administration and major figures in the Republican party are expounding on what that looks in Afghanistan, and how principled realism may become the Trump Doctrine, as Paul Ryan said during a CNN event with Jake Tapper after the speech on Monday.
For a quick rehash on realism as an international relations theory, realists generally believe that states are the most important actors in an anarchic international system, that they only pursue self-interest, and their primary concern is survival. Contrast that with the neoconservative bent of the George W. Bush administration which sought to readily promote democracy abroad, to include pre-emptive military action to bring it about (Iraq and Afghanistan), and the liberal interventionist tendencies of the Obama administration (Libya).
Trump has made his realist style of politics known early, and loudly. He does not appear to be burdened by the idea that American ideals will not be shared by international partners. “We are not asking others to change their way of life, but to pursue common goals that allow our children to live better and safer lives.” Trump said.
Does that mean the Trump administration will stand by as a conservative government in Afghanistan takes hold, probably to include elements of the Taliban, and does something like that not demand concessions which guarantee women’s rights? It’s possible, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson alluded to yesterday when he said “It’s not for the U.S. to tell them it must be this particular model, it must be under these conditions, and I think that’s what the president means when he says we’re no longer nation-building.”
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense
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