Saturday, October 28, 2017

How far is the Trump administration willing to fight for its travel ban?

How far is the Trump administration willing to fight for its travel ban? Last week, the third iteration of the travel ban suspending travel from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen was struck down by a federal court judge in Hawaii; only a day shy of its enforcement. “The Department of Justice is resolutely focused on dealing with the terrorism threat we face; they are real” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And resolute they appear to be.
READ ALSO: US judge blocks latest version of Trump travel ban 

This travel ban rigmarole is multifaceted and complex. Yet, the ten month push-and-pull can be distilled down to broad strokes. It started when Trump issued an Executive Order putting the order in effect a week into his presidency on January 27, 2017. This first ban of citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen was deemed to be, in fact, a “Muslim ban.” Once dubbed as such it became in violation of American Constitution.
The countries listed in the ban are Muslim majority nations, which only became an issue based on candidate Trump publicized position. His campaign press release stated that Trump “is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” The courts found the Executive Order banning travel from the listed countries tantamount to singling out Muslims, which is a clear violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
Trump signed a new Executive Order making changes in hopes it would withstand legal scrutiny as it provides further clarity. The first order was plagued with confusion over the scope of the ban and how to implement it. Yet The Trump administration reasoning remained unchanged. National security was cited as the motivator. Sessions in his testimony said “the military tells us they can expect not a reduction after ISIS is defeated but maybe even an increase in attacks. The president's executive order is an important step in ensuring that we know who is coming into our country. It’s a lawful and necessary order that we are proud to defend.”
The Trump administration’s travel ban has been defeated by the courts time and again. The White House is not deterred. Trump can hang his hat, for now, on the option of moving the fight up to the Supreme Court.
Walid Jawad

The second travel ban replaced the first Executive Order with some notable changes including dropping Iraq from the list of banned countries, dropping the Syrian suspension of refugees, dropping the prioritization of refugees based on religious minority status. The order, on the other hand, renewed the suspension of the refugee program for 120 days. The courts struck down this version as well based on the same legal grounds as the first order. In response, the administration resorted to legal options to block the injunction. On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments to vacate the injunctions in October. 

As the Trump administration was worried of an unfavorable outcome by the Supreme Court it made adjustments to the updated/second Executive Order by issuing a Proclamation. This update altered the second ban in a few ways; one, the composition of the countries it listed dropping Sudan while adding Chad, Venezuela and North Korea. This change was widely viewed as a way to diffuse the court’s argument that the ban is a Muslim ban. In response to the 24 September Proclamation the Supreme Court canceled its scheduled hearing taking no action on any of provisions including the President’s refugee ban. 

Throughout the different iterations of the travel ban, the provision dealing with refugee stayed intact. The Executive Order suspended acceptance and relocation of refugees for 120 days, which expired days ago on October 24. The White House allowed the sunset provision to take its course without any new announcement. Yet, the administration was busy putting together new vetting procedures. In addition to more biographical data collected, social media posts will be mined to cross reference the stories applicant cite when submitting their request. The new, more stringent standard of vetting, will expand to women and children. The current vetting process can take upward of two years to conclude. There is no clear sense if “improved” vetting will cause a backlog and longer wait periods.

Ban defeated

The Trump administration’s travel ban has been defeated by the courts time and again. The White House is not deterred. Trump can hang his hat, for now, on the option of moving the fight up to the Supreme Court. That’s concerning the legal track, it’s a different fight that he has to wage against critics including those within his own Republican party.
The latest critique of Trump’s policies was by former President George W. Bush: “We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments - forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places” a broad stroke rebuke. Bush never mentioned Trump by name nor did he delved into the specific of anyone issue -- he didn’t ignore them either. When Bush said that “we know that when we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed. It is the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy,” he seems to be addressing the travel ban. 

The saga of the travel ban will continue as part of a war over basic American values wrapped up in legal battles. If successful, this piece of the political puzzle will eventually promote the creation of a new norm. When and if this White House is able to move its different policies forward the lauded American value system will inevitably change. Thus, making the Trump presidency a fight for the soul of America and that’s how the voting public is perceiving it and what is guiding an increasing number of politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (BA) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj
Last Update: Saturday, 28 October 2017 KSA 13:32 - GMT 10:32

Harvey, Irma’s destructive path leaves a trail of human misery and footprint

A US Army soldier walks past his unit’s vehicles while a double rainbow appears in the sky in Virgin Islands on September 14, 2017. (Reuters)
This year’s Hurricane Season proved to be a destructive one with two back-to-back hurricanes, Harvey and Irma. The annual ritual of observing the June 1 to November 31 hurricane season has become less relevant over the lull of the past 12 years with limited destructive storm systems. Katrina was the last major hurricane making landfall in 2005 as a Cat 5 storm.
The massive storm left in its wake 1833 fatalities and $108 in damages. Images of Katrina came to mind as Harvey began forming in the Atlantic this August. Meteorologist started sounding the alarm bells, which intensifies as Irma started gathering strength on Harvey’s heel. The US was poised for destruction on a scale never been seen before. The nation was fixated.
As Harvey made landfall in Texas on August 26 drenching the coastline with continuous rain from Corpus Christi to Beaumont-Port Arthur over a four day period. The peak 51.88in of rain broke previous records turning parts of Houston and Beaumont cities into waterlogged islands. Boats were the main mode of transportation to rescue those who were trapped by the water.

Volunteer groups

Many of the 17,000 rescues where by boat and many of those were by self-deployed citizens who descended onto Texas from other states, near and far, to aide government rescue efforts. One such group was the Cajun Navy, an ad-hoc Louisiana based volunteer group formed first in the aftermath of Katrina, mobilized heroically despite the mounting challenges and threats. Other citizens formed long lines of with their private trucks towing boats were seen driving into devastated areas.
Each person who lived through the storm has a moving story of unimaginable hardship to tell. Americans responded by donating money and sending much needed supplies, food and water. Images of caravans descending from across the nation to help rescue flooded Houston and Beaumont attest to how deep Americans felt for Harvey’s victims.
A reported note from two children to their volunteering dad as he was heading to Houston reads “Dear Daddy: I hope you don’t get hurt, but I hope you help other people that need it more than you do. I hope no one gets hurt more. I hope everyone gets away [from] the hurricane. I love you! Scott and KaKenna.
Private citizens took it upon themselves to help, many without specific training in emergency response, but who have tools, courage and a heightened sense of responsibility. Some lent a helping hand augmenting government search and rescue efforts while others delivered food, water and basic survival items. All the while, makeshift shelters popped up everywhere; stadiums, schools, synagogues, churches and mosques.
Mustafaa Carroll of the Houston chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) said “Over 25 mosques in the Houston area have opened their doors to those seeking shelter from this deadly storm.”
The crumbled canopy of a gas station damaged by Hurricane Irma is seen in Bonita Springs, Florida, U.S., September 10, 2017. (Reuters)

Muslim youth groups

Further, Muslim youth groups went out in droves to provide food and water to their neighbors. Individual initiative was made efficient by organizational support and training. CAIR held training sessions in Dallas before sending volunteers to Houston. “Saudis in the US,” a national student organization composed of Saudi students studying in the US, announced that over 140 have self-deployed under the banner “We Stand With Houston.”
Texas governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency prior to Harvey’s landfall triggering disaster response. He mobilized 12,000 Texas National Guardsmen and drew on the Federal Government resources. President Trump said, “We see neighbor helping neighbor, friend helping friend and stranger helping stranger. We are one American family. We hurt together, we struggle together and believe me, we endure together.”
FEMA as the lead agency for disaster response positioned itself ahead of the storm, but was quickly running out of funds. Item number one on Congress agenda coming back from their summer recess was to vote on the White House $7 billion request for disaster response.
Congress, in anticipation of great immediate need, allocated $15 billion in disaster fund to FEMA for relief efforts going beyond Harvey. Capitol Hill understands that the final clean up budget will by multiples of that amount. Some estimates put the total for both storms at $180 billion.
Celebrities, organizations and private citizens raised over $32 million by donating to the NFL Houston Texans star J.J. Watt’s crowdfunding effort who was hoping to raise $200,000 originally. Big corporation contributed more than $140 million according to the US Chamber of Commerce.
Hurricane Irma approaches on September 9, 2017 in Miami Beach, Florida. (AFP)

Devastating Irma

Not to be outdone, hurricane Irma set its sights on Florida, but not before devastating the Caribbean. By the time it hit Florida it was a Cat 4, overwhelming the Sunshine State. Weakening, yet destructive, Irma moved up north leaving a path of destruction into Georgia.
Irma earned the distinction of being equal to the most intense hurricane on record. This one-two punch, Harvey and Irma, only two weeks apart is an unprecedented occurrence since scientists started recording weather 166 years ago.
Florida ordered a mandatory evacuation of over 6 million residents making it the largest evacuation on record. Once Irma hit, President Trump issued a disaster declaration authorizing the Federal Government to deploy its resources to the affected areas including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
The seamless and expedient process from local to federal governments to congress empowered officials to take the necessary precautions and respond in an effective manner to the disaster. The collaboration between good Samaritans and first responders is credited for heroic stories of survival and humanity limiting fatalities to 81 lives.
The situation is still volatile. On Wednesday, eight senior citizens died in a nursing home due to excessive heat. Lack of electricity has kept 6.2 million Floridians without power. Heat is one immediate threat to the very young and the elderly. Parts of central and south FL are expected to have temps in the 90s for the next few days. As residents start trickling back to their homes to assess and rebuilt are aware of the risks.
A who’s-who A-list celebrities came together on Monday over a Hand-in-Hand telethon raising over $45 million dollars for hurricane relief. (Al Arabiya)

Long road to recovery

Relief efforts continue. Americans are showing their concern for the victims even though the news cycle has been replaced by other pressing issues. Relief organizations are holding training session to send volunteers to help rebuild. It will take Texas and Florida a long time to fully recover, perhaps years. A who’s-who A-list celebrities came together on Monday over a Hand-in-Hand telethon raising over $45 million dollars for hurricane relief.
The five living former US presidents launched the “One America Appeal” to raise money for storm recovery. Food banks around the nation are receiving non perishable items. Religious organizations are collecting much needed personal items and supplies. Individuals and organizations donating money to recovery funds.
This hurricane season is not over yet. Meteorologist have been warning of progressively intensifying weather systems going forward as global warming adds more moisture in the air and increases temperatures, which fuels storms. The direct fallout can be measured in dollars and not only in meteorological statistics and colorful infographics. Harvey and Irma’s economic impact on this quarter’s GDP will be mild.
Economist expects an overall 0.3 percentage points loss to the seasonally adjusted annualized growth. Yet, a higher toll, in life and treasure, will be paid less a serious strategy is put in place to slow down human activities contributing to these destructive systems.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.
Last Update: Friday, 15 September 2017 KSA 14:08 - GMT 11:08

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Dreamers’ Nightmare: Trump Rescinds DACA

President Donald J. Trump has rescinded the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which was issued by an executive order by former President Obama in 2012. DACA deals with roughly 800,000 illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents allowing them to live and work legally. The measure is a temporary one designed to give this population status until Congress passes a legislative solution for their peculiar situation.

The “Dreamers,” as they are known, are people who have grown up to become contributing members of society. They are students, workers, and entrepreneurs. The U.S. economy will be adversely affected if by the end of six months, which is the timeframe set to phase out DACA, would be deported.

Zuckerberg of Facebook, Bezos of Amazon, Cook of Apple, Robbins of Cisco, Nadella of Microsoft, Kelly of Visa are among the 400 business leaders who cautioned against ending DACA and called for protecting the Dreamers. “Our economy would lose $460.3 billion from the national GDP and $24.6 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions” they have reminded.

Immigration reform is a political Football that has been punted time and again for the last few decades. Currently, there are around 12 million undocumented residents who live and work in the U.S. This vital population is needed to do the jobs Americans aren't willing to do. The simple equation is that if there was no need for them, there would not be any economic incentive for them to risk their lives by making the treacherous journey crossing the southern border.

Blame Game

Arguments suggesting that this population is causing undue economic burden are unfounded. Not to turn this into an economic discussion, but the current %4.4 is as low as any economist would hope for. Actually, the Federal Reserve can tolerate a rate as low as %4.8 without increasing the interest rate to avoid unsustainable inflation rates. Some of those 12 million undocumented immigrants find businesses that are willing to operate within that %4.4 dead-zone. Within that margin unskilled workers find employment.

The economic argument can get complicated really quick with inflation consideration and shifting demand for highly skilled workers. The undocumented population is blamed as some Americans find themselves unemployed. It's not because of the undocumented as much as they need to acquire new skills employers are seeking in their workers. Because of these factors and a multitude others, we find that unemployment is more complex to be put squarely on illegal immigrants. In fact, latest figures put their contribution at $11 billion a year toward the U.S. economy.

If the economic impact is not the catalyst for Trump’s decision then it must be that such a decision will advance the Republican party's agenda helping them solidify the gains they won in last November’s election. The Republican party currently controls the White House, the House and Senate. One would think that phasing out DACA will help those Republicans fighting tight races in the upcoming midterm elections of 2018; no, that's not it.

A dozen House Legislators who represent districts with a high concentration of Hispanic populations are opposing Trump on his DACA termination decision. Six of those 12, wrote a letter asking him to leave DACA in place. The Dreamers act (DACA) is a temporary fix for an unacceptable situation that inflicted suffering upon children of illegal immigrants. Congress is now under pressure to push the issue up their already packed legislative agenda. By any measure, passing any meaningful immigration reform will require more than 6 months. It was during the Reagan presidency in 1986 when the last meaningful immigration policy was passed, although it did not address the root causes of the illegal immigration. And now, at this juncture, immigration reform has become a pressing issue for Congress to address; let the legislative wrangling begin!

Some Republican Representatives took it upon themselves to expedite the legislative process. Republican Representative (Rep) Curbelo has filed an amendment to the anticipated spending bill to keep DACA intact. And Rep. Coffman (Republican - Colorado) is attempting to force a vote on his bill extending DACA work permits by soliciting the support of the 194 House Democrats and a few more Republicans. He is using a procedural process that is usually used by the minority to force the majority to bring bills to the floor for a vote. The “discharge petition” procedure he’s using needs a total of 218 signatures to force a vote. A very daring track to take. Numerous other procedural options are being considered to keep DACA in place for the time being. This is not to speak of the Democratic party that is looking into their options to help the Dreams.

Some 20 State Attorney Generals sent President Trump urging him to keep DACA in place. Attorney Generals have the option to resort to legal actions asking the courts to intervene. Although the courts have shot down another executive order expanded DACA called the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), which was yet another Obama issued an executive order in 2014. DAPA protects undocumented parents from deportation for the purpose of holding the integrity of the Dreamers’ family unit. Not a very encouraging outcome for the Dreamers.

Perhaps peaceful protests will prove to be effective. Dreamers and supporters of America’s values and history have already mobilized protesting Trump’s decision. A simple question here: what would the economic and social impact be if these 800,000 or so dreamers organized to stay at home for a week? I venture to say the nation will feel the void they typical fill.

This is a country of immigrants. This is a country that is built on trust. This is a country that always finds a way to do what is right. These Dreamers have trusted the promises given by the American government. They registered when asked. They shared their personal information as required. Because of that, they are now more vulnerable to deportation once their status runs out than other undocumented immigrants. No doubt about it, there is a pressing need for immigration reform. We need to be mindful that illegal immigrants, legal newcomers, and citizens all share the ethos of living the American dream. As a country, we must honor the promises we made to them. After All, this is not a legal question - it's a moral one.

original article published, 10 Sep 2017, on 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Is Trump walking the US back to social strife and inequality?

There was never a time when soldiers of conscience were able to win by waving roses alone in the face of their well-armed enemies. Yet, violence is an ineffective tool and an oxymoron. Waging war for peace is a lame justification bloodthirsty hawks might claim. In the eternal war between good and evil, today’s battle is liberals and conservatives with universal moral values versus white supremacist. This battleline became clearer when President Trump sanctioned bigotry and racism. In his response, Trump was dismissive of a white supremacist murder of Heather Heyers in Charlottesville, VA as he plowed his vehicle into a group of peaceful counter protesters. He went further by equating both sides: racist protesters with anti white supremacist counter protesters, insisting that “there is blame on both sides.”

What is worse is that the killer had adopted terrorist tools lifted from ISIS’s playbook turning his car into a weapon. A troubling development when the leader of the free world is as dismissive of such killing in a similar manner as Bin Laden, Zawahiri, Baghday and others terrorist leaders. This is a very dangerous precedent putting Trump on par with terrorist logic and rhetorical maneuvers. There is no justification Mr. President! 

If it were an oversight, then let it be known that there is no wisdom in neutrality in the face of hate; lest one sides with bigotry and injustice. Deplorable as that may seem, the political fallout never caught up to the collective outrage over this incident. Those who orbit the Trump sphere were unconvincing and slow to react. Muffled calls by Republican leaders for Trump to unequivocally denounce racism including Sen John McCain and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan seem to have enticed Trump to “correct” course days after the violence that killed Heyers and injured 19. Unfortunately, he discounted those statement of condemnation of white supremacist in an off the cuff morally ambiguous comments a mere 24hrs later. No one with an iota of moral courage dared to defy his/her boss from within the administration except for Gary Cohn, a Trump advisor who resigned in protest. What does that say about the rest of the Trump administration? 

A very telling silence, one that implicitly supports racism. Racists were emboldened to organizing last Friday under the “Patriot Prayer” march in San Francisco a group that supports Trump. In doing so, they are dismissing the sacrifice of those who fought Nazis in WWII, the leaders of conscience who marched in peaceful protests against racism throughout the civil rights era, and countless Americans who walked-the-walk demanding equality on behalf the downtrodden, disadvantaged and disenfranchised. Where is the moral high ground that America aspires to take? Presidents are expected to lead the nation to the path of unity and healing. Trump’s inability to read and follow the map of ethical and moral justice is terrifying. President George W. Bush’s first address in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9-11 was from a Washington, DC mosque. He made clear that Muslim-Americans are patriots and should not be blamed for the terrorist attacks. Trump’s words are not an issue of political party affiliation, not a communication mishap, nor is it a political snafu. This is premeditated and much more sinister. His next two major decisions confirm that: Banning transgender persons from the military and pardoning sheriff Arpaio. 

President Trump’s directive to reverse the Obama era policy of giving transgender individuals the same rights and assigning the same responsibilities as any others who vowed voluntarily to serve and possibly die in defense of the nation and its values. The same values that Trump is currently eroding by restoring discrimination and gender inequality in the military. The LGBTQ community has been fighting and making small and steady progress leading up to a recruitment equality within the military. They had to win the support of a critical mass of the American population to apply upward pressure for change culminating in former President Obama directive to the military to accept members of the LGBTQ community into the military applying the same qualification and restriction imposed on any other individuals.  Equality is achieved only when everyone is on the same footing and is afforded the same opportunities without any restrictions unrelated to function and mission. 

As for Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, he was pardoned by Trump from a conviction of violating a court order to end his illegal, unholy crusade of racially profiling Latinos. "He's done a great job for the people of Arizona. He's very strong on borders, very strong on illegal immigration," Trump said of Arpaio. The same Arpaio who is the subject of reported abuse of his authority and unconventional violation of inmates. The list of complaints rivals the criminal RAP sheet of some of the criminals he imprisoned. Joe’s racial discrimination knows no bounds. In 2012, Arpaio held a news conference to persuade the public of Obama ineligibility to hold the presidency due to lack of qualification. The U.S. president must be born in on American soil. Sheriff Joe argued that Obama wasn’t born the U.S. and therefore doesn’t meet the requirement to hold the office. A major conspiracy theory of the “Birther Movement,” which he and Trump were two of its leading voices. Arpaio and Trump go way back “Sheriff Joe was very unfairly treated by the Obama administration," Trump confirmed. 

Both decisions were announced on Friday evening which is typically when any administration wants limited coverage of its announcement. But this Friday provided Trump with additional cover as the focus of the nation is shifting toward Hurricane Harvey and the destruction in Texas where it made landfall. The White House announcements were buried in the news.  

The timing of the announcements was not the only interesting thing about them, a more important observation is the common denominator. Both announcements specifically oppose obama policies and  are both filtered through a racial lense. Fanning the flames of racism must not be lost on congress. Senators and Representatives on the Hill are an equal and balancing branch of government. They must hold their own in the face of racism. A different approach to the political norm is in order. Collectively, they must rise above short term gains replacing it with America’s long term greater good. The current bully sitting behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office is bound by the limits of the office. Those limits are set by the American people. Those who are willing to take to the streets must, in addition, priorities political pressure on their elected officials. Compelling them to advance the people’s will in the House and Senate. Congress must take the moral high ground otherwise they would allow for a new culture of nepotism, kowtowing and political corruption. The American people will not stand for that on the long run. If for nothing else but selfish gains and self-preservation, congress must act with urgency to help the nation heal or you will be voted out. 

My latest article, "Is Trump walking the US back to social strife and inequality? link to published version on


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Nothing but hammer in Trump’s Afghanistan toolbox

Nothing but hammer in Trump’s Afghanistan toolbox

In a rare primetime address to the nation on Monday, US President Donald Trump gave shape to his administration’s foreign policy approach toward Afghanistan.
In an embarrassing about-face, Trump reversed his earlier views on Afghanistan saying that “A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al-Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11”.
This is a departure from what presidential candidate Trump had called for during his election campaign, “an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan”. His stated objective now is to fight on and win.

Targeting terrorists, not terrorism

Trump delivered his address to an audience of uniformed men and women of the armed forces from Fort Myer near Washington, DC. His speech started with an acknowledgment of the sacrifices made by American soldiers to preserve the nation’s values and way of life. He pledged to give them the necessary tools and means to complete their job in Afghanistan.
Trump tried to set clear goals for victory: “Attacking our enemies, obliterating the ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge”. The wording might be a tad different, but these objectives were already part of the US policy in the region during the presidential terms of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Going after the terrorists is justified in the short term, yet it cannot be an effective long term solution for eradicating global terrorism. It is essential to first address the political causes which compel some people to choose the path of violence against civilians as a political tool for change. Terrorists take recourse to such tactics as they believe it is the most effective option – if not the only one – available to them.
Trump’s approach does not draw any medium to long term vision for resolution of conflicts not through violence but by political means. Even if the military is able to exterminate terrorists in Afghanistan and stops providing them safe havens in the region, it will not stop lone wolves from conducting terror attacks. The struggle will continue unless the root causes are addressed, an important issue that Trump neglected to address in his speech.
Trump’s approach does not draw any medium to long term vision for resolution of conflicts not through violence but by political means
Walid Jawad

The Afghanistan quagmire

The US has been fighting in Afghanistan for over 15 years, which makes it the longest running war in American history. US citizens are said to have limited appetite for lengthy engagements in overseas conflict. From a strategic standpoint, it is important for the US to finish the job that George W. Bush started in 2001. Lack of progress on this front is undermining trust in any plans or promise of success as the cost of war continues to mount along with the number of US soldiers killed in the war.

The history of Afghanistan provides a lesson which the US has found difficult to learn from. In addition, terrorists find Afghanistan’s inhospitable terrain advantageous to their cause - both geographically and politically. For many decades, it has shown that an unfinished engagement will only lead to deeper conflict and a disastrous outcome.
This long term involvement is very problematic for the US as it has to reset its policy every four to eight years in line with its presidential elections. Considering the time constraints within which presidents have to operate, Trump did not offer any clear benchmarks or time limits for assessing the progress of his approach. 

In the political vacuum left after US supported Afghan and foreign fighters (collectively called the Mujahideen) defeated the Soviet army in 1989, the country turned into a safe haven for terrorists, namely al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden, the terrorist group’s leader, took credit for the 9-11 attack on the US. The moral of the story was not lost on Trump, yet he completely missed the lesson.
“We are a partner and a friend, but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live, or how to govern their own complex society. We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”
In this statement, Trump confirmed that he could not understand the difference between ‘supporting’ and ‘dictating’. Dictating how Afghans should manage the affairs of their nation will not succeed, but without financial and political support Afghanistan will not graduate from a failing state to a functioning one. Thus, terrorism will persist.

A myopic vision

Reducing the US role in Afghanistan to a military-centred one is insufficient for achieving the goals outlined by the president. The manner in which he sought the assistance of Pakistan and India seemed to lack the desired diplomatic finesse.
The influence US has on these competing nuclear powers requires a delicate diplomatic balance. Targeting Pakistan without giving it any credit will only cause resentment and resistance toward advancing US interests in the region.

Although Trump’s strategy appears short-sighted, it appears to be a major political coup. Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, is standing by the Afghanistan plan. Indeed, political observers and experts breathed a collective sigh of relief when Trump retracted from his pre-election call to pull out of Afghanistan. Is it a sign of maturity, learning on the job or finally listening to the experts? It is too soon to speculate even as Trump stuck to his speech this time and resisted the urge to speak off the cuff.

But what we know about Trump is that he is all about taking on the next challenge. It is a gung-ho style of governance. However, Afghanistan and the role it plays in the region makes for a complex situation requiring level-headed plans and decision-making. Advancing US national security is a long term process.
The president’s job is to set the policy and step aside to allow qualified experts to frame the appropriate strategies. In fact, foreign policy must strike a balanced diplomatic, economic and defence strategy. It is not possible for a solely military-backed approach to deliver an effective Afghan policy.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.
Last Update: Thursday, 24 August 2017 KSA 11:47 - GMT 08:47