When President Trump’s top foreign policy advisers gathered recently at the White House to discuss plans to revamp the administration’s Afghanistan strategy, the makeup of those in the room was indicative of a significant turn in U.S. foreign policy.
Seated front and center at the Situation Room table were four current or retired generals who dominate just about every big national security decision Trump makes.
The debate, however, was most notable for the voices that were absent.
Intended as a crucial final debate session before the plan went to the president, the meeting took place on a day in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the president’s top diplomat, was in New York. His acting deputy attended in his place.
The generals at the table were Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser; Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and two retired four-star generals, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly. Most of those in attendance emerged believing that the Afghanistan plan was ready to go to the president for final approval, U.S. officials who took part in the session said.
Unbeknown to the White House, America’s top diplomat was not on board: Tillerson, who heads a department that some White House officials described as “AWOL” during the review process, didn’t think the plan did enough to address other countries in the region with a stake in Afghanistan, such as Pakistan, Iran and India, a person familiar with his thinking said. Tillerson also was concerned that the plan called for beefing up the State Department’s presence in dangerous locations outside Kabul.
Even though the State Department remains understaffed at its top ranks, department officials said it had been an active participant in the review and insisted that a final decision on the emerging plan was probably weeks away. A State Department spokesman declined to comment on the ongoing discussions until “the group arrives at a decision point.”
The disconnect over a major policy shift, with big implications for the Pentagon, the State Department and the federal budget, illustrates the sway military officers hold in the Trump administration. Current and retired military officers not only hold positions at the highest ranks of government but also fill senior staff jobs in the White House that have traditionally been the purview of civilians or experienced diplomats.
According to a review by The Washington Post, at least 10 out of 25 senior policy and leadership positions on the National Security Council (NSC) are held by current or retired military officials, up from two at the end of the Obama administration.
The shift in staffing reflects Trump’s faith in the nation’s warriors and his delight in shows of military force. On the campaign trail and in office, he has promised to “knock the hell” out of the Islamic State and take a harder line against an array of adversaries, including North Korea to Iran.
Since January, that attitude has rippled across U.S. foreign policy and the NSC itself. In the Middle East, Trump has emphasized support for Arab allies, prioritizing a desire to contain Iran and pound extremist groups over the Obama administration’s advocacy for human rights and changes designed to improve life in closed and repressive societies. That shift is one that has long been advocated by the U.S. military.
Source: The Washington Post