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The United States has enjoyed a major strategic victory in the seeming endless Global War on Terrorism: the Islamic State has been crushed.
Oh, you hadn’t heard? That’s unsurprising, because almost none of the mainstream media are giving it adequate coverage. They’re too busy talking about none of the news that really matters, like the latest spat between President Trump and lame duck Senator Bob Corker.
That’s OK. What matters is that Trump has returned American leadership to world affairs in a decisive way—and he did it while defying the negative assumptions of the Left, overcoming the ridiculous expectations of neoconservatives, and by shocking our enemies in the Mideast.
Critics may have complained that Trump was irresponsibly increasing America’s military footprint in the Middle East, a region that has been the source of too many problems for too many years. But, compared to other American military operations, the forces Trump committed to defeating ISIS were small.
So what made the difference? Trump loosened the rules of engagement, giving our warfighters and our allies all the support they needed, and never once equivocated on the concept of victory—or the certainty that America must lead, regardless of its force size.
It took President Trump just nine months to achieve what President Obama—who talked and talked and talked about defeating the JV jihadis—couldn’t accomplish in two years. The Left must be scratching its collective head. After eight years of Obama’s “leading from behind”, progressives appear confused about how effective American leadership truly can be in the world. For their part, the folks in the NeverTrump wing of Conservatism Inc™ look to be just as bewildered because Trump was supposed to be an isolationist. Plus, much to Bill Kristol’s chagrin, Trump has proven that the United States can go to war against terrorists in the Mideast without engaging in a quixotic mission to turn the region into the American Midwest.
Carl von Clausewitz famously stated that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” Thus, the main point of warfare is to effect political change. You do this by breaking your enemy’s will and his ability to resist. In today’s world, a crucial component of warfare is in the battle of perceptions. In fact, most politics is about perception—it’s about how your enemies and the non-combatants you are interacting with perceive you and your cause.
Simply invading a country and killing thousands of people can be counterproductive when the object is to bring about a political solution to the war. Some wars are necessarily small and some are large. If you turn what should have remained a small war into a large one, as we did in Afghanistan after 2002 or in Iraq, you end being perceived as incompetent. If you spend your time apologizing to the world for your country’s sins in lieu of fighting your enemies effectively, as Obama did, you can be perceived as weak.
In the Mideast particularly, America has been perceived as weak and incompetent for years.
The Middle East is a part of the world riven by cultural chaos, ethnic animosity, and religious turmoil. Thus, the rule of the “strong horse” is highly valued for bringing a modicum of order to an otherwise perpetually tumultuous region. When former President Obama spoke of defeating ISIS, he did it in a sterile and academic way. The world disbelieved that Obama was serious, given his years-long commitment to reducing America’s role in the Mideast. Not only did ISIS ignore Obama’s threats, but our allies only reluctantly engaged ISIS, and made side deals with other powers, like Iran and Russia.
Of Mideast power dynamics, Lee Smith writes, “Strength, whether it issues from the body, intellect, or will, is the raw material that wedded to character becomes power imposing itself on the world. What more is there to say about one horse beating another in the desert when no one is watching? The stronger wins, and the other knows it has lost.” With President Obama, no matter how many ISIS members were killed in combat, the world still knew the Islamic State remained. Further, the world questioned America’s staying power and its ability to lead an effective coalition. Under President Trump, not only has ISIS been beaten back but it has lost its physical territory. They know Trump won’t back down.
What’s more, everyone knows ISIS has lost, thanks to Trump. The only question that remains is where the ISIS survivors will go—and what they plan on doing once they arrive there. Thus, continued American leadership will be required. Thankfully, the decisive Donald Trump—and not the detached Hillary Clinton—is leading us.
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