Remember the iconic New Yorker cover with Manhattan as the towering center of the world, all else minuscule, nothing between the Atlantic and Pacific coastal cities? Americans and the world are once again getting a lesson in relative geography. Because no distance seems as large as that between the national-security office buildings of the American government and the White House in the Trump administration.
If one listened only to the admirable secretary of defense, or most of the statements by the secretary of state, one would surmise the Trump administration to be well within the boundaries of traditional American post-World War II national-security policy. The National Security Council staff evidently has the interagency process running to identify policy problems and assess potential solutions. The electrical current jumps the grid, though, when issues cross the the narrow drive called West Executive Avenue that divides the White House from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where the NSC resides.
The Afghanistan strategy review illustrates the problem. The war in Afghanistan has been fought by Americans and their allies for 16 years, with no victory in sight. America’s military believes the war is winnable, if only Presidents Bush and Obama’s limitations on time and troops were lifted. The secretary of defense is perhaps not surprisingly also of the view that our country should endeavor to win the wars it is fighting. The secretary of state blanches at what would be needed of America’s diplomats and foreign assistance to bring the necessary whole of government approach into being, but evidently also supports increasing our country’s effort. The intelligence agencies conclude that 16 of the 22 most dangerous terrorist organizations exist in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and will become major threats to the U.S. homeland if the war in Afghanistan is abandoned. In any normal administration, that would be a consensus. And it evidently was, until the policy crossed West Executive Avenue.