Trump Vows to Kill More Terrorists

This writer along with millions of fellow citizens felt a great sense of relief when President Trump, on Monday, August 21, told us “[W]e will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands or try to rebuild other countries in our own image. Those days are now over….”  He also stated, “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”  In making this statement, he was moving away from the nation-building strategy begun in Iraq and Afghanistan under President George W. Bush, but at the same time was reasserting our continued military commitment to Afghanistan and to the region.

Unsurprisingly, Max Boot of the New York Times was quick to note that in brushing aside nation building, the President was on the same page as his predecessor, Pres. Barack H. Obama.  Boot quoted Obama who stated in 2011, “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.”  For the leftwing Democrats who are now in control of the Democratic Party leadership, nation-building is a neocolonialist program whereby Western powers, and the U.S. in particular, seeks to establish governmental institutions and local lifestyles in their own image. 

Although a nation-building strategy had originally begun during a Republican administration, the Republicans, always concerned about wasteful government spending became alarmed by a report in 2016 by The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The report stated that “approximately $113.1 billion has been appropriated for Afghanistan relief and reconstruction since 2002.”  In total, the war has cost over $1 trillion, which is around $33,000 per Afghan citizen. More recently, SIGAR found that the U.S. Department of Defense spent roughly $43 million dollars on an “ill-conceived” compressed natural gas station that should have cost about $500,000. The cost of nation-building rather than an ideological antipathy to nation-building is likely the root of Republican concern about following the nation-building path.

The colonialists (who are imperialists to the Marxist-Leninist mentality) are always imposing -- that’s a favorite word -- their political, social, and economic vision of institutional life on other countries with different indigenous visions of what society should look like. How many times have we read that the tribal conflicts within post-colonial Africa are a direct result of determinations by Africa’s colonizers as to what boundaries the newly independent African countries would have, the conditions under which trade would or would not proceed with the former colonial interloper, and the legacy of cultural distortion and destruction produced by many years of colonial exploitation? The negatives of nation-building are all seen through the eyes of a neo-Marxist mindset.

Likewise, the British and French are often blamed for a similar mentality regarding North Africa and the Middle East after defeating the Ottomans in World War I. By setting up the borders of various countries and determining the “readiness” of different states for independence, and forcing certain leadership upon the emerging, newly-independent Arab states, and supporting a homeland for the Jews in their ancient homeland, the Western Powers were perceived by many in those new countries as “colonialist” rather than as a force for good in beleaguered and backward lands.

After 1945, many countries that had formerly been under the control of the Western Powers gradually gained their independence. Yet, the relationship of those developing countries with the West was not only against a background of colonialism, but also within the context of successful nation building in Germany and Japan after WWII. Those two anti-democratic nations transitioned to models of democracy and productivity. They did not become either clones or pawns of the WWII victors. They were so successful that, economically, they became rivals of their conquerors and in some ways surpassed them.

Was this not evidence that active interventionism using the nation-state building concept was positive and effective? The reason we have gone in this direction is because it has been perceived as a practical necessity by many in the military, not because of some intrigue or neocolonialist mentality, as the left would see it.  If there is going to be effective military headway, it must be supported by peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency. Reconstruction also involves repairing and restoring pre-existing facilities and services, such as transportation and other infrastructure and government institutions. In addition to building bridges and schools, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Japan have been financing and engineering the construction of a highway joining Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat.  James Dobbins of the RAND Corporation notes that “Economic, social, and political development, and institutions which protect human rights and provide for the rule of law, are important not only to post-conflict peacebuilding, but to nation-building at any stage of development.”

So, while there will continue to be some nation-building operations in Afghanistan, it is clearly the President’s goal to retrench on those operations, and to emphasize aggressive military actions. Based on Trump’s speech, we can expect to see a restoration of rules of engagement that give more options to commanders and soldiers in the field. We can also expect more pressure will be put on Pakistan not to provide safe havens for fleeing Taliban terrorists (actually there are more than 40 terrorist groups identified in Afghanistan). And lastly India’s economic engagement with Afghanistan will also be encouraged and developed.  Although we should not expect the nation building or “capacity building” or “state building” [synonyms for nation building] to come to a complete halt as it is structurally connected with military success, we can expect a de-emphasis on this modality, as our policy is reformulated to provide a winning strategy.

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