The Trump Card

The most frequent questions my Afghan friends ask revolve around the new President of the United States, Donald Trump.  Essentially these questions distilled down to the concern of ‘What will happen now?’ or ‘What does it mean for Afghanistan?’ Simple in form, but complex in response. These are not easy questions to answer; nor do the answers convey any great measure of comfort. Usually, an investigation into the history, experiences, ideology, and perhaps the significant campaign donors is enough to gain a level of knowledge to predict future actions; but not in the case of President Trump. Attempting to frame answers requires a different kind of analysis.

In the case of President Trump normal doesn’t apply. He is not a career politician with a voting record we can refer to for insight. He has not gone through the scrutiny public servants are subject to over the tenure of their public careers; rather he is a private citizen, enjoying the social latitude that it affords. He is not an ideologue, so we are unable to rely on a strict moral or ethical compass to predict actions. He has floated across political parties, changing his affiliation with the times rather than stoically adhering to any foundational philosophies. There is simply no political litmus test to measure predictors for President Trump’s decision-making. Merely watching mainstream media sources cannot reveal much either. Even his stated opinions have been disjointed, inaccurate, and in some cases fantastical. His war with the media will continue, serving neither themselves of the public they are required to inform.

He does exhibit some characteristics which off a glimmer of light into his decision-making calculus. He is a businessman and is assumed to understand the intricacies of economics. He is a corporate leader so we can also assume he understands the importance of leadership and the inherent problems that come with the position. He understands corporate inefficiencies and top-down power structures. Perhaps his most galvanizing motivators will be his campaign promises to the American people. Controlling America’s out-of-control spending, more favorable international economic agreements, the elimination of ISIS, and accountability for failed practices. There are much more, but these will have an effect on the future of Afghanistan policy.

Perhaps the only reliable predictors of the new administration’s actions is a look into the advisors President Trump will rely on for advice and recommended courses of action. These individuals will be instrumental in guiding a novice politician in the complexities accompanying the Oval Office. They will have to contend with a leadership style which may be reactive and capricious at times but will follow an agenda. The circle of closest advisors will shape President Trump’s decisions and ensure the implementation of policy changes.

There is a strong presence of military and international business experience. Defense Secretary James Mattis is a retired USMC General, Lieutenant General McMaster is the new National Security Advisor, and former general John Kelly heads Homeland Security. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson brings an international business perspective to the diplomacy world; particularly with Russia.

Defense Secretary James Mattis is in favor of maintaining a presence in Afghanistan. Afghan Military readiness will be a priority. The current state of the Afghan military is one still in transition and requires a significant amount of training and mentorship. Perhaps, most importantly, he is a strong personality and can be relied upon for sound advising within his expertise.

Lieutenant General McMaster, mirror’s General Mattis’s feeling toward continued involvement in Afghanistan, but takes it a step farther. McMaster is used to giving unpopular advice and naked critiques to superiors, but he also understands the need to address critical systems beyond Afghan’s military. His new-age thinking, much like Flynn and Petraeus, will ultimately lead to paradigm-shifting changes within the military which will eventually defeat insurgencies and other like organizations.

Secretary John Kelly has ample expertise in border security and population-centric approaches with issues will serve him well. He also brings a systems-thinking approach to international problems. He will tell it like it is, and will have the easiest transition to the new position. He understands the link between crime and terrorist organizations and the trafficking of drugs and guns.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as yet is forming his administration. Communication is not yet set between the President and Tillerson. He has a daunting task with Mexico, Iranian nuclear issues, Israel-Palestine, implementing new immigration policy, Russia, N Korea missile tests, and China militarizing the open seas. His organizational skills will be put to the test. He will use his past relationships with Russia to affect diplomatic policy. Afghans may have to contend with a secondary priority position.

Stephen K. Bannon; Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff; and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law are not experienced technical advisors when it comes to Afghanistan. Their responsibility lies with crafting the message and selling the intent to Congress and the American people. It is reasonable to expect these names to change for a variety of reasons so no determinations can be made with regard to Afghanistan.

Will The Trump administration continue to make Afghanistan a priority? Yes. Will this administration be able to manage the complexities of Afghanistan? The short answer is, again, yes.

Why? Afghanistan is a strategic interest and allows NATO to maintain vigilance on Pakistan’s nuclear capability as well as their harbored terrorist groups. The same with Iran, essentially ringing the country in US/NATO troops and allies. Republicans own both houses of Congress and their general feeling is to maintain a relationship with Afghanistan. The closest technical advisors see the necessity for continued assistance to Afghanistan, both militarily and economically.

What will the assistance look like? SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) will certainly influence stronger accountability procedures in security, anti-corruption, immigration, and counter-narcotics. This will meet with strong resistance among the entrenched corruption within the Afghan Government. However, given the chemical makeup of the circle of advisors and the unfortunate history of waste, corruption, and abuse, there will be a reckoning. The Trump administration will attempt to directly affect the issues that have caused failure and limited success in the past. The Unity Government of Afghanistan is so divisive and wasteful it has only magnified the government corruption and waste. Accountability and oversight of funding which has evaporated in the Ministries will also be addressed. Military readiness is a given. Combating ISIS is also a given considering it was a focus of NATO and a campaign promise. Leveraging Pakistan to discontinue its sheltering of insurgent and terrorist groups; something the past administration has been unable to do. These are the most obvious moves toward stabilizing the Afghan government. Others might include leveraging a friendly India to assist in Afghan reconstruction. Each of these is worthy of an article in their own right.

Whatever form the assistance comes in, it will be conditional upon the conduct of the Afghan Government to combat corruption, strengthen the competencies of the ministries, and dedication toward the defeat of mutual enemies. President Ghani and President Trump have a unique opportunity to find common ground. Perhaps implementing an international cooperative anti-corruption agreement, leveraging NATO countries and supporting the Ghani administration in combating corruption. Certainly, there is room for enhanced training and capacity-building in virtually all areas of governance. The distinct possibility of more troops may occur in the near future but they will be training, insurgent and ISIS focused. This might spill over into Pakistan (even more than it has) and no one is more aware of the relationship the Pakistani ISI has with the Taliban than the military. President Trump’s advisors are well aware that Pakistan is only a thinly veneered ally, interested in keeping Afghanistan weak for strategic depth.

Speculation only goes so far, no matter how well-informed the person. The only clear message is simple: the success or failures in the future will be a direct result of the ability of Presidents Ghani and Trump to find common ground.

Samuel James Striker, Ph.D., is the founder of Hollin-Phoenix Consulting, LLC, a company that specializes in socio-cultural research in unstable areas. He is considered by many to be one of the foremost conflict zone social scientists with extensive experience in unstable areas such as North Africa, Iraq, and Afghanistan. 

Dr. SJ Striker is the author of “The Humanity of Warfare: Social Science Capabilities and the Evolution of Conflict.”

He can be reached at


The Afghan Tribune | Dr. SJ Striker | Published: March 05, 2017, 02:42 PM

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  • Mar 6, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    Pakistan inability to encounter insurgents and halt nurturing the fundamentalists is a bitter truth. It is an open secret that Pakistan has been exposed in training and equipping the terrorists against the whole region. Unfortunately, Pakistan dualist role is putting the whole region from integration, connectivity and development. China has shown interest to run mega projects like CPEC but they don’t know the repercussions at all. The major regional and international powers need to encourage Pakistan to get rid of terrorists, fundamentalists’ seminaries and other – — –

  • Mar 6, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    Dr. Samuel James Striker! Are you sure that NATO’s presence in Afghanistan is to maintain vigilance on Pakistan’s nuclear capability as well as their harbored terrorist groups? Let me remind to that NATO was interested to sign a strategic agreement with Pakistan in 2013 but Pakistan did not agree to some of the clauses. Secretary General NATO was eager to announce strategic partnership in December 2013 but it never happened. As far as Pakistan’s nuclear capability is concerned it is for peaceful purposes. It is deterrence for Indian and Israeli moves to carryout aggression against Pakistan or Arab strategic brothers. Pakistan is never going to strike first as Islamabad understand well about its humanitarian and international obligations. In fact, Pakistan is even ready to sign any nuclear or arm control treaty, if India expresses her desire to reciprocally sign it. The West needs to understand this compulsion of reciprocity for Pakistan in order to coexist without comprising on her sovereignty and integrity.
    As far as President Donald Trump’s foreign policy toward Afghanistan is concerned, most of the things would continue as in the past but Americans would more eagerly confine to fulfill their obligation and pledges. This time US troops would not be encouraged to get involved in combat role as Washington is not going to approve additional expenditure, other than the budgetary allocations. President Donald Trump has already announced that he believes in the policy of non-friction and non-conflict. More so, both Afghanistan and Pakistan are not in any negative list and their credibility is going to improve with the passage of time.