President Trump gave what we can legitimately call a major foreign policy and anti-terror strategy speech tonight. Speaking before a military audience at Fort Myer, Va., the president called the nation to unity, healing and love.
He then made what will surely be a bombshell of a shift in American’s focus in South Asia–flipping our support from Pakistan to larger rival India, and redoubling our efforts to achieve an “honorable and enduring victory” in Afghanistan.
Trump spoke for about a half hour, and remained “on script” reading from the teleprompter. None of the pique or emotional outbursts of previous talks was evident in what was a very conventional, presidential address.
“We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other,” Trump said as a preface to announcing a fairly seismic shift in the way the so-called “war on terror” is being conducted in Afghanistan and South Asia.
The president said that his initial instinct was to end the war in Afghanistan, but after many meetings. he felt that three fundamental conclusions guided his decision:
1. Our nation must seek an “honorable and enduring outcome.”
2. The consequences of a “rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.”
3. The security threats we face in Afghanistan and the region “are immense.”
Trump singled out Pakistan as a nation that has given a haven to terrorists. He called the terrorists “nothing but thugs and criminals and predators and…that’s right…losers.”
He laid out three “core pillars” to his plan to achieve victory over terrorists.
First, the U.S. will shift to a “strategy of conditions,” which means we will no longer focus on numbers of troops or plans for further military operations. “I will not say when we are going to attack,” Trump said, adding, “but attack we will.”
“We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists,” he said.
The second pillar is that the U.S. will no longer be silent about Pakistan’s tolerance and sheltering of terrorists. “In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner,” Trump said. “But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day…to kill our people.”
Trump said that will have to change. “It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and peace.”
The third pillar is India. India has historically been Pakistan’s rival. Trump noted that both countries have nuclear weapons, and he mentioned the tension between them that could develop into violence.
A shift toward India, which Trump said makes billions in trade with America, is for the “broader Indo-Pacific region.”
Finally, Trump said he’s removing restrictive rules of engagement and giving the military the tools to fight. “Micromanagement from Washington, D.C. does not win battles.”
He pledged to expand authority for U.S. armed forces to target terrorists and criminal organizations. He promised to maximize sanctions.
“Our troops will fight to win,” Trump said. “Victory will have a clear definition.”
The president once again called his paradigm “principled realism,” whereby the U.S. does not seek to recreate our culture or nation in other countries, but to focus on American interests, and seek partners who share them. Those other nations will be required to participate financially, and by showing loyalty.
Trump thanked the Afghan people for their commitment and sacrifice. He lauded those soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery and said the country must honor them by pursuing a victory worthy of their sacrifice.