Human nature and Trump's Afghanistan policy
On Monday, 22 August, President Trump revealed his Afghanistan policy. Some highlights from CBS News:
- The U.S., he announced, will shift from a "time-based approach to one based on conditions" in which he said his administration will "not talk about numbers of troops" or plans for further military operations. He said that "conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, must guide our strategy from now on."
- Mr. Trump said that Afghanistan will require the integration of diplomatic, economic and military solutions in which one day, a political settlement could occur that might involve elements of the Taliban.
- The president said that the U.S. must change its approach on how to deal with Pakistan, which he said provides safe havens for terrorists. The president added that the U.S. must further develop its relationship to India so that it can help with economic assistance to Afghanistan.
- Mr. Trump emphasized that the U.S. would no longer engage in "nation-building" overseas and is instead mainly interested in decimating terrorist groups and defending the U.S. from national security threats.
- The president vowed not to engage in a rapid exit from Afghanistan, whose consequences, he said, would be "predictable and unacceptable." He said that it would create a "vacuum" that terrorists like al Qaeda and ISIS would instantly fill. Mr. Trump criticized the Obama administration for the 2011 decision to "hastily" withdraw from Iraq.
Why do most conservatives (except libertarians) applaud this old-new policy? Maybe liberals can learn something that makes us tick. It all starts with one's view of human nature and proceeds from there.
1. Conservatives believe that human nature is fundamentally flawed and bad. If one believes that human nature is basically good, then conflict and war seems so needless. Every conservative wishes war were not necessary, much as parents wish their children would not fight (and maybe some are better behaved than others), but they also realize that human nature is restless and prone to do wrong. On a citywide level, some people commit crimes, like gangs. On a national level, some people commit horrendous crimes, as terrorists do. Whether one reaches this belief based on the Bible, on one's own experience grappling with his human nature, or on the evolutionary animal nature of humans, the results are the same.
2. Some people become so degenerate that no one can negotiate with them or improve their environment to improve their souls. Neville Chamberlain thought he could do so with Hitler, but that didn't work out. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said in 2015 that terrorists need jobs, which would improve their behavior – make them "undegenerate," so to speak. Conservatives agree that a new environment might turn some people in the right direction, like petty gang members. Church life, for example, can work miracles. But our political leaders had better not apply some successes to everyone. Then the leaders come across as naïve and silly.
3. Conservatives believe that when better people (not flawless or perfect people) do not confront moral or human evil, then really bad people, like terrorists, interpret the inaction as consent or weakness. Osama bin Laden said America looked like a paper tiger. He said people, when faced with a choice between a strong horse and a weak one, naturally choose the strong one. Obama came across as weak, so our global enemies became more aggressive. Now Trump is conveying the message that America is strong and powerful. This is good.
4. As to Pakistan, we have been giving it monetary support, and the billions of dollars now need to be contingent on its behavior and cooperation with American interests. Pakistan can no longer harbor terrorists, as it did for bin Laden and still does for the Taliban and others.
5. As for Afghanistan, the old part of the policy announcement repeated what George W. Bush said. Stay until the job is finished. The new part is that we will not announce ahead of time our strategy or give anything else away. Mr. Trump has also removed restrictions imposed on our military by our previous president. This is an improvement because now the U.S. can appear unpredictable and therefore stronger.
The policy announcement is the right step in the right direction. Mr. Trump always did come across as a strong man during the campaign, which freaked out liberals who believe that America already has an "outsized" (Obama's term) influence on the globe and who believe that America is no better or worse than any other nation. A strong man in a dog's world is the right demeanor for America and our allies.
Now watch the prissy, tassel-toed pundits howl at jingoism and nationalism. For them it's America the Suckiful that has no business leading the world. But conservatives realize, accurately and correctly, that since WWII, America has been in a leadership role – greatness has been thrust upon her – and had better act like it, for the benefit of humanity.