Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Know Nothing Commander in Chief

During the July 19 meeting, Trump repeatedly suggested that Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford replace Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, because he is not winning the war.


Over nearly two hours in the situation room, according to the officials, Trump complained about NATO allies, inquired about the United States getting a piece of Afghan’s mineral wealth and repeatedly said the top U.S. general there should be fired.


Trump's national security team has been trying for months to come up with a new strategy he can approve. Those advisers are set to meet again to discuss the issue on Thursday at the White House. The president is not currently scheduled to attend the meeting, though one official said that could change.

Former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush went through multiple strategies over the course of their presidencies to try to stabilize Afghanistan. What set Trump apart in the July meeting was his open questioning of the quality of the advice he was receiving.

During the meeting, Trump criticized his military advisers seated around the table in the White House Situation Room for what he said was a losing U.S. position in the war, according to the senior administration officials. At one point the president directed his frustration at Mattis, saying Trump had given the military authority months ago to make advances in Afghanistan and yet the U.S. was continuing to lose ground, the officials said.

"We aren't winning," Trump complained, according to these officials. "We are losing."


To underscore his view that the veterans who fought in the war may be better positioned to advise him on an Afghanistan strategy, Trump compared the policy review process to the renovation of a famed New York restaurant in the 1980s, officials said.

Trump told his advisers that the restaurant, Manhattan's elite '21' Club, had shut its doors for a year and hired an expensive consultant to craft a plan for a renovation. After a year, Trump said, the consultant's only suggestion was that the restaurant needed a bigger kitchen.

Officials said Trump kept stressing the idea that lousy advice cost the owner a year of lost business and that talking to the restaurant's waiters instead might have yielded a better result.


The '21' Club, which has been one of Trump's favorite New York spots, closed for two months in 1987 while it underwent a full renovation and reopened to great fanfare.


Trump left the national security meeting without making a decision on a strategy. His advisers were stunned, administration officials and others briefed on the meeting said.

Two Pentagon officials close to Mattis said he returned from the White House that morning visibly upset.


In an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday, McMaster praised Nicholson.

"I've known him for many years. I can't imagine a more capable commander in any, on any mission." Asked whether the president had confidence in Nicholson, McMaster said "absolutely."

But a defense official confirmed that discussions are underway at the Pentagon regarding Nicholson's future in Afghanistan.


During the presidential campaign, Trump often talked about knowing more than U.S. military generals. Last September, he suggested he would probably have different generals from those who served under former President Barack Obama.


Heading into its 16th year, the war in Afghanistan is the longest war in U.S. history.


The U.S. currently has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. Some of Trump's advisers are advocating for a very limited U.S. role in the war, while others have recommended several thousand additional troops. Officials said it's unclear when the president will sign off on a new strategy.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

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