In his campaign, Donald Trump promised “we’re going to start winning again.” In office, he has defined winning largely in military terms.
His budget decimates the State Department while adding billions to the Pentagon. He boasts that he’s delegated decisions on force levels abroad to the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Mike Mattis recently announced that 4,000 more troops would be sent to Afghanistan.
Four thousand more troops won’t produce a “win” in Afghanistan. The president has it wrong. America’s military is already the best in the world. But for America to “start winning,” we need more smart diplomacy, not more smart bombs.
Since coming to office Trump has ratcheted up the use of force. He dropped the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan, while adding troops there. He rained cruise missiles on an airbase in Syria, and a U.S. jet recently shot down a Syrian jet in Syrian airspace, a clear act of war. He’s added troops to Iraq and to back rebels in Syria. He lavished arms and praise on the Saudis, backing up not only their merciless war on Yemen but also their blockade on tiny Qatar.
Not one of these actions will “start America winning.” The war in Afghanistan is in its 16th year. Even Secretary Mattis admits we have no strategy for victory there. Four thousand more troops will add to the violence and the costs. They will help insure we don’t lose, but the war will go on.
In Syria, Trump had suggested on the campaign trail that he would focus on defeating the Islamic State, not on regime change in Syria. That opened the possibility of a working coalition with Russia and Syria against the Islamic State. Instead we’re now clearly at war with Syria as well as the Islamic State.
In the Persian Gulf, we’re backing the Saudi destruction of Yemen, creating a failed state that will mint more terrorists. And bizarrely, Trump seems to have turned on Qatar, a tiny emirate that is an ally and the site of a vital American air base. The recent announcement that the U.S. will sell $12 billion in arms to Qatar makes our policy utterly incoherent.
In our own hemisphere, Trump has repeatedly acted to worsen relations rather than ease them. He’s insulted the Mexican president and alienated the Canadians, our closest trading partners. When Venezuela descended into desperate hunger, the administration passed up the opportunity to offer humanitarian assistance, and come to the aid of a neighbor in need. With the reversal of Obama’s opening to Cuba, Trump is isolating the U.S. from its neighbors.
In the State Department, offices on the top floors remain empty. Trump’s budget calls for a 30 percent cut in the department. At a time when the U.S. desperately needs creative diplomacy — a combination of the State Department’s professionals and skilled political appointees — Trump is demoralizing the department, chasing away professionals and scaring away the experts who might lead real change.
America is a great nation. Our economy is still one of the greatest in the world. Our military is unmatched. Our so-called “soft power” — in culture, language and commerce — is without rival.
Yet we find ourselves unable to “start winning.” The military is mired in conflicts in the Middle East with no exit and no victory. Trump is alienating our neighbors, even when we should be strengthening our bonds. Our allies are increasingly perturbed by the president’s erratic bluster. Voters may have thought that Trump the businessman would be a strong negotiator, as he promised. Instead, he’s turned out to be a showman, infatuated with military gestures, scornful of the quiet arts of diplomacy. He isn’t putting America first; he’s putting America at risk.