What with all the hearings, investigations and talk of either Obstruction of Justice or impeachment, it’s easy to forget that we have a couple of wars going on. One of them, still running in Afghanistan, is our nation’s longest armed conflict. The other is the far more vaguely defined effort to rid the world of as much of the Islamic State as possible. All of this requires a delicate balancing act when it comes to troop deployment and the White House has officially handed that job back to the Secretary of Defense, General James “Mad Dog” Mattis. (ABC News)
The Trump administration has granted the Pentagon the authority to manage troop levels in Afghanistan, according to a U.S. official who said the decision is expected to be announced on Wednesday. The move means it will likely be up to Defense Secretary James Mattis to decide whether to send more American troops to Afghanistan as has been recommended by U.S. military commanders.
In late April, Trump similarly gave Mattis the authority to manage the U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Syria.
While a similar delegation of authority to the Pentagon for Afghanistan troop levels had been expected, it had been anticipated that it would occur after the Trump administration concluded its Afghanistan strategy review.
Does any of that sound unusual to you? Controversial? Problematic? If not, then you might be a relatively sane person who has observed the comings and goings of the federal government for a couple of decades. But since it involves Donald Trump the media clearly has to find something to complain about. Buzzfeed (of course) immediately found someone to say that Trump is “abdicating” his responsibilities. (Emphasis added)
“When the White House has oversight, [the figure] has a political dimension, good or bad. Trump was elected so there is a degree in which he is abdicating. That’s pretty big decision to delegate to your Secretary of Defense,” Colin Kahl, national security adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden, told BuzzFeed News. “This allows the Pentagon to race ahead of the interagency process, which is designed to produce holistic strategies to address our most pressing challenges.”
First of all, as nearly every responsible news outlet has mentioned, getting the White House involved in the specifics of the force management levels (FML) list is a fairly recent thing. The Department of Defense was traditionally the guiding hand in making such determinations. And it has been credibly argued that under both Bush 43 and Obama, politics began poisoning such decision making processes, possibly to the detriment of troop safety and efficiency, to say nothing of overall mission objectives.
If you want to criticize the President at ever turn, that’s fine. I do it regularly myself. But you can’t have it both ways. Either you think Trump is incompetent and shouldn’t be trusted with running a lemonade stand or you don’t. Who would know better than Mad Dog Mattis how many troops are required to properly achieve the various missions our military is tasked with? Do you want Donald Trump making the call? If so, you must have a lot of confidence in the military experience of a real estate tycoon.
Of course, in the end, Mattis isn’t “officially” making the decision anyway. The final Go/No-Go always comes down to the word of the President and it will be he alone who bears the responsibility for the results. But if he’s happy to approve decisions made by career military leaders who actually know a thing or two about battle, perhaps we should all leave them to it.