Trump rejects ‘the process’ in favor of leadership

President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice Department preparing for Mueller report as soon as next week: reports Smollett lawyers declare 'Empire' star innocent Pelosi asks members to support resolution against emergency declaration MORE has been castigated by the right and the left for tweeting that he was withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, and later ordering a partial withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Aside from arguments that withdrawing would embolden ISIS, al Qaeda, the Taliban, et al, there was also  lot of angst that Trump hadn’t followed “the process.”

After 18 years in Afghanistan, in a war we are “not winning,” according to outgoing Secretary of Defense James MattisJames Norman MattisWhy Russia covets hypersonic weapons Talk grows that Trump will fire Dan Coats Graham cursed at acting DOD chief, declaring himself his 'adversary' MORE, the president is required by local custom to convene all and sundry in order to determine What Now?

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In Afghanistan, Trump obviously thinks the ‘what’ is pretty obvious, as the tab is over $840 billion for military operations, $126 billion for reconstruction, probably another $1 trillion for veterans’ health care, over 2,400 dead, and over 20,000 wounded.

In Syria, the U.S. has just 2,000 troops in a chaotic battlespace: too few for strategic effect, but enough to drag the country into another war. So, Trump pulled the plug.

“The process” wouldn’t have generated any real insights. We’ve been in Iraq-Afghanistan-Syria for almost two decades, and we already know everyone is horrible and they’ll be back to killing each other before the last U.S. aircraft departs local airspace. 

The process wouldn’t be entirely meaningless, at least by Washington, D.C., standards: It would be an opportunity for the participants to advance their favored arguments or, if they sense a shift in the winds, to start reputational damage control, along the line they were “against it before they were for it.”

It would generate a flurry of congressional hearings, round tables, and interviews of former generals and ambassadors, all of furrowed brow and with “concerns.” Op-eds would be written by lobbyists for local tribal leaders to argue, in perfect English, why America is needed to bring peace, but really to get them control of that mining concession, oil field, or natural gas pipeline.

There would be a lot of concern about “the message we’re sending,” but not so much about Main Street, home of the Americans who have the privilege of paying for the adventure.  

At the end of it, all concerned, most likely none with sons in the infantry, would advise the president to “stay the course.” Why? Because the American policy community and commentariat were socialized by the Cold War to regard every intervention as a generational effort, even if a drive-by shooting is sufficient.

If you think gravity is a powerful phenomenon, so is the inability to understand “sunk cost.” Exhibit A is Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the next commander of the U.S. Central Command, who reacted with dismay to Trump’s order to redeploy 7,000 troops from Afghanistan: “If we left precipitously right now, I do not believe [the Afghan forces] would be able to successfully defend their country. I don’t know how long it’s going to take.”

But do you recall the most famous process of all?

Yes, the Middle East peace process, which even has its own acronym, MEPP.

MEPP, isn’t just a process, it’s an industry, a 71-year effort to reconcile the aspirations of the indigenous peoples of a slice of the former Ottoman Empire, and it hasn’t produced much, other than profits for the luxury hotels where the delegations meet.

In his quest for the “ultimate deal,” Trump promptly recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the U.S. embassy be moved there from Tel Aviv. He also put his son-in-law, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerFive things to know about Trump confidant Tom Barrack Dems open new front against Trump Dems launch investigation into Trump administration's dealings with Saudi Arabia MORE, in charge — to the horror of the experienced hands whose efforts have gotten us nowhere.

Seventy-one years of exertion has produced one other thing — time for Israel to steadily expand its writ over contested territory. So, what could a New Jersey real estate developer do? Kushner has no diplomatic experience and may not know all about Area A and Area B and Area C, but that’s why we have maps. What he has done is spend his career working with public officials and he knows how resistant they are to change.  

By putting Kushner in charge of the effort, Trump signaled to local leaders who speaks for him. And if Trump can’t secure a deal, he will have put the lie to the argument the process is worthwhile, so maybe both sides should just fight it out.

In the future, we will thank Trump for clarifying this.

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After Trump made his Syria announcement, many commentators were giddy: Trump was criticized by Fox! This is good for Trump, as he can reposition himself in the media space, and expand his outreach to other media platforms before 2020, such as “live streaming from the Oval Office.”

In 2020, Trump’s platform can be “He failed to keep us in Syria and Afghanistan!” and he should challenge the stewards of “the process” to justify the opportunity cost to America of their obsession for “stability” everywhere, all the time.

It’s Andrew Sullivan’s hope that the albatrosses of Syria and Afghanistan becomes Russia’s, so that Afghanistan 2.0 does to Putin’s Russia what it did to the Soviet Union. That’s collusion, straight up!

James Durso (@james_durso) is the managing director of Corsair LLC, a supply chain consultancy. He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Durso served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years and specialized in logistics and security assistance. His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority. He served afloat as Supply Officer of the submarine USS SKATE (SSN 578).