A very familiar pattern is emerging as President Trump turns his attention toward solving the ongoing issues within Afghanistan. A very uniquely Trumpian geopolitical strategy based on assigned ownership, economics and self-interest.
Last night as President Trump addressed the nation to discuss the ongoing conflict within Afghanistan he took the first step: Trump assigned strategic ownership to Pakistan:
[…] “The next pillar of our new strategy is to change the approach in how to deal with Pakistan. We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.
“Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists. In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner. Our militaries have worked together against common enemies.
“The Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism. We recognize those contributions and those sacrifices, but Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the same terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change. And that will change immediately.
“No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace. (transcript link)
If anything President Trump stated was not the brutal reality the placement of strategic ownership would not work. However, the entire international community knows that Pakistan, including their intelligence service ISI, has a great deal of hidden sympathy toward Islamic extremists within Afghanistan.
Never was that reality more stark than when the international community realized that 9/11 terrorist Osama Bin Laden held refuge inside Pakistan for almost a decade. Within the governing systems inside Pakistan there is a large contingent of Taliban sympathy. This reality has been the 800lb gorilla amid public discussions of international national security for several years.
Last night President Trump called it out, publicly.
This is where those who follow Trump closely will note a familiar pattern emerging.
The Taliban in Afghanistan are to Pakistan, as the DPRK is to China.
Remember, the solution to the threat that is Kim Jong-un was to assign direct responsibility toward Beijing. In a similar approach, the solution toward eliminating the threat of extremist violence from the Taliban is to assign direct responsibility toward Pakistan. President Trump began that process last night.
However, those who have followed closely will note there’s additional references.
♦When the threat is Sunni Extremism, the problem was/is the Muslim Brotherhood and the enabling of Qatar. Trump assigned responsibility for solving that issue to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council. It is the GCC who are confronting Qatar, not the United States.
♦When the threat is Syria’s chemical weapon, the problem was/is the Assad regime and ISIS. Trump assigned responsibility for solving that issue to Russia; Russia initially refused to solve it, so Trump bombed the shit out of Assad – Russia/Assad took ownership, the chemical weapon use stopped; further action was not needed by the United States.
♦When the threat is DPRK’s nuclear weapons, the problem was/is Kim Jong-un and the enabling China. Trump assigned responsibility for solving that immediate threat to China. It was Beijing who told Kim Jong-un to stand down. Not the United States.
See the pattern? In each example President Trump assigns responsibility. However, the important element is the underlying ownership must be based entirely on truth. In each of the examples the truth was/is that Gulf States/Qatar, Assad/Russia, and China/Beijing were manipulating and enabling the problem behavior. By calling out that truth, each enabler was forced to take ownership and corrective action.
The same approach extends here with Afghanistan. However, the solution is not Pakistan eliminating the Taliban per se’; the solution lies in leveraging Pakistan to force the Taliban into negotiations with the legitimate Afghan government. Like the previous examples of Saudi Arabia and China, Trump has now assigned ownership of this objective to Pakistan.
The U.S. Military can/will engage the Taliban and Pakistan is on notice it better not act to enable the extremists. Cliff Notes:
Additionally, this approach only works if there’s leverage to cajole Pakistan to act. Fortunately creating “leverage” is almost a uniquely Trumpian life-skill. Throughout Trump’s business career he’s been a master at leverage. Now with control of the largest economy and market in the world, he’s got massive economic leverage to generate beneficial national security outcomes.
Saudi Arabia was leveraged by U.S. economics and our commitments to their national security. China was/is being leveraged by U.S. economics and their need to keep access to our markets. So what approach will POTUS Trump use for Pakistan, yep – economics. It’s right there:
[…] “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the same terrorists that we are fighting.”…
Who is Pakistan’s biggest regional adversary? India.
[…] “Another critical part of the South Asia strategy or America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India, the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic harbor of the United States.
“We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development.” (transcript)
♦For the North Korean problem, Japan, South-Korea and India are all economically leveraged against China by President Trump via favorable trade and market access opportunities.
[Note that “bilateral” trade deals are essential in these efforts.]
♦For the Afghanistan problem, India again becomes the economic leverage against Pakistan. China has a great deal of investment in Pakistan, and China also views India as an economic threat to their one-road/one-belt plans.
For those who are worried about expansive military endeavors that will result in death and quagmire I would advise to put your mind at ease. The military is needed as the visible alternative to economic leverage, see North Korea. It is a reference; but military engagement unto itself is not the central tenet or fulcrum upon which the economic leverage is dependent.
The U.S. military is not the leverage, the military helps creates leverage. The leverage itself is economic. Financial interests are always the best leverage to use because inherent within the fundamental principles of economics is ‘self-interest’. Actions taken generate financial benefits; those benefits are direct and immediate to the interests of those generating the results.
From the policy and outlook of trade and U.S. economic engagement, obviously India’s Prime Minister Modi is a much more preferred ally. Both China and Pakistan fully understand the dynamics of this mutually beneficial Trump/Modi relationship and what it can mean for their own economic self-interests.
Finally Afghanistan’s government appears fully aware of the approach.
So what can we anticipate as next steps? Well if the familiar pattern repeats:
- Look for Pakistan to attempt to avoid ownership.
- Look for President Trump and Secretary Tillerson to keep pulling Pakistan into each discussion point when referencing Afghanistan.
- Look for President Trump tweets aimed at creating and affirming the U.S. expectations of Pakistan. Each time this happens the ownership gets stronger.
- Look for our diplomatic team to talk about Pakistan helping to solve the problem.
- Look for any affirming U.S. signals of warmth and friendship toward India.
These will all be indications of the ongoing strategy. So far, this economic geopolitical approach has worked well with Syria/Russia, Qatar/Saudi Arabia and DPRK/China. No reason not to be optimistic about Afghanistan (Taliban)/Pakistan.