Does Trump Have a Strategy to Win the Global War?
The Wall Street Journal is delighted to hear Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s tough words on North Korea and China.
“Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended,” Mr. Tillerson said, referring to the Obama Administration policy of waiting for North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions or collapse. A day earlier he criticized “20 years” of a “failed approach” to the North’s nuclear ambitions.
I, too, appreciate the secretary of state’s candor. But straight talk isn’t going to be enough. As the Journal concedes,
He and President Trump are trying to persuade China that the new Administration is serious about stopping the North before it could explode a nuclear weapon over U.S. territory. China has ignored U.S. pleas in the past, so the test will be getting Beijing to believe the new Administration isn’t bluffing.
How are we supposed to get the Chinese to change their minds? Words aren’t going to be good enough; the Chinese, and the North Koreans, will have to see real evidence of American resolve, which has been lacking for three decades.
The Trump administration’s national security policy was to have been much more muscular than Obama’s, as incarnate in the appointments of notoriously tough military leaders at the National Security Council (first General Flynn, then General McMaster) and the Department of Defense (General Mattis). So far at least, this has not happened; the enemy coalition has been more active, starting with North Korea, and continuing with China, Russia, and Iran.
You can see the enemy moving in and around Libya, now a major regional hot spot. Sub-Saharan African countries see a significant influx of radical Islamist terrorists across Libya’a southern border, and are urging the United States and Europe to take forceful action. Meanwhile, in the north, the Egyptians are turning to unlikely allies to fight Libyan-based terrorists. All of a sudden, Russian special forces have turned up in Egypt within range of Libya. “It is very concerning," Marine General Thomas Waldhauser. U.S. Africom commander, said to Senator John McCain in recent testimony.
"General Haftar has visited, as you said, on the carrier with the Russians. He's also visited in the country of Russia. Also, this week it's reported in the open press, [Prime Minister Fayez al-] Sarraj from the Government of National Accord has also visited Russia.
This is doubly worrisome, both because the Russians are moving some of their best fighters onto the Libyan battleground, and because it shows that the Egyptian government is cooperating with Vladimir Putin. This shows, once again, that General el-Sisi does not feel entirely comfortable with his American allies, and is hedging his security bets. Not good news for the Trump administration.
The Chinese are also stepping up their Middle East activities, especially in Egypt.
Iran has gotten busier in Yemen, funneling weapons (including drones and MANPADS), money, and advisers to their Houthi proxies in the ongoing war against Saudi Arabia. And the Iranians are quite provocative in the main shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf, manning their weapons as they draw within a thousand yards of U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz. Yes, the Iranians are testing the intentions of President Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis, and this sort of war game enables the Tehran regime to brag that they are the dominant force in those crucial waters.
Oddly, the toughest American verbiage toward Iran thus far has come from our ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who has actually called for the expulsion of Iranians and their proxies from Syria. You can safely assume that Ambassador Haley didn’t ad lib that language; the president, the relevant cabinet secretaries, and the national security adviser surely signed off on it.
Watch to see if our actions are in sync with these words. So far, it’s been the usual sanctions, with a high concentration of Russian targets. In recent days,
The U.S. sanctioned 30 individuals and entities from 10 countries, many of them Chinese and Russian, for transferring sensitive missile technology to Iran and flouting export controls on Iran, North Korea and Syria, the State Department said Friday.
The sanctions, imposed on Tuesday, include 11 companies and individuals that have provided materials to Iran’s ballistic missile program. The State Department is concerned in part because the U.S. has seen evidence that Iran is providing missile support to the Houthis in Yemen.
At the same time, we are dispatching fighters—mostly Marines, it seems-- to Syria, in the anti-ISIS campaign, and we are still fighting alongside Iran forces in Iraq.
So what’s our policy? It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. We say we want Iran out of Syria, but we’re in league with the Iranians in some battles. We want a closer relationship with Egypt, but Sisi clearly has his doubts, and is taking out insurance by working with Putin. We are rhetorically tough against North Korea (an intimate of Iran), and slap sanctions against those who help them, but there is as yet no sign that we understand we’re in a world war, nor that we have a global strategy capable of winning it.
If we want to change the global battlefield, we are going to have to defeat the keystones of the enemy alliance. The best place to start is with Iran, and the best way to do it is politically, not military.
General McMaster does not seem to agree. His predecessor “put Iran on notice,” but McMaster avoids even the sort of verbal conflict with the Islamic Republic that many expected on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, that just arrived. Instead of denouncing the Tehran regime, the official American statement was bland. Short version: “I hope you have a fine time, especially all my Iranian-American friends.” Not a word about Iranian-American hostages in Tehran, nor about the constant Iranian threats against the United States, nor about the calls to kill Americans.
So there’s some good words from Tillerson and Haley, and some weak words from the Oval Office. There is still no definition of our mission in the global war, and no strategy for victory.
We’ll see that—or not—soon enough.