Atlantic staff writer Krishnadev Calamur recently joined members of The Masthead for a conference call. He answered your questions and a few of my own. Here are the takeaways from our conversation.
If you want to hear more, you can download the transcript from the call, or listen to the recording.
On Afghanistan: Yes, the war is going poorly, but there is hope for a negotiated settlement. The dominant mood in theUnited States is war fatigue. But Krishnadev points out that America’s opponents feel the same way. “There is belief within theTaliban leadership that some of the Afghan people and theTaliban leadership are tired of the 16 years of war, and they may be open to talks,” he said. That gives war-planners a reason to focus more resources on the conflict. Similarly, there is downside to leaving. In addition to the military consequences of a withdrawal—potentially the overthrow of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul—there will be symbolic consequences. Seeing the the world’s remaining superpower fail in Afghanistan, following the Soviet defeat decades ago, “will have some psychological impact for militant groups fighting all the way fromAfghanistan to all the way across the Middle East and elsewhere,” said Krishnadev. “It comes at a time when ISIS is gaining in strength in the Middle East, as well as in Afghanistan is one of the few places outside the Middle East where it has gained a foothold.”
On North Korea: The major change is U.S. rhetoric, not North Korean threats. “I don't think there is an imminent risk of nuclear war,” said Krishnadev. Despite their increasing weapons tests, the North Koreans “haven't done anything that is different from what they typically do.” President Trump has amped up the rhetoric, but, Krishnadev points out, that hasn’t been matched by the change in military posture that we’d expect if hostilities were imminent. “There are almost 70,000 U.S. troops in South Korea and Japan, they were not on a state of high alert. None of the U.S. civilians in the region have been evacuated. There simply wasn't scope for an actual conflict other than the president’s words.” The U.S. Navy wouldn’t carry out an “operational pause,” as it did this week, if it were expecting to go to war.
On Trump: Watch deeds more than words. North Korea is an excellent example of how professional foreign-policy watchers read the news. It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy when the president tweets. But if you look at the actual conduct of foreign policy abroad, you see the president making broad statements, and then the diplomats like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson working to manage relationships. In almost every crisis since the president took office, including North Korea, the Middle East and NATO, “U.S. allies have been placated and ultimately the president has also backed off some of his harshest language,” Krishnadev points out. When you look at what’s going on around the world, “it's more foreign policy like and less a reflection of what the president tweets.”
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