On Afghanistan, Trump Finally Abandons the Bush-Obama Message

August 22, 2017

by John M. Howting


… The American people are weary of war without victory.

Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition:  attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.

… Ultimately, it is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future, to govern their society, and to achieve an everlasting peace. We are a partner and a friend, but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live, or how to govern their own complex society. We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.

So said President Trump in his Monday night speech on Afghanistan. Trump is setting a tone quite distinct from his recent predecessors, Messrs. Bush and Obama. It’s refreshing after 16 years of “making the world safe for democracy,” or other tropes about “defending our values.”

This change in tone on foreign policy reminds me of a story involving two prominent politicians in the United Kingdom. At a meeting of the Conservative Philosophy Group in London, in the 1980’s, the anti-war advocate Edward Norman presented a defense of British nuclear armament.  His main point was that a nuclear Britain would be a safer Britain. At the close of the presentation, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Enoch Powell, Member of Parliament., exchanged words:

Mrs. Thatcher said (in effect) that Norman had shown that the Bomb was necessary for the defense of our (British) values. Enoch Powell: ‘No, we do not fight for values. I would fight for this country even if it had a communist government.’ Thatcher: ‘Nonsense, Enoch. If I send British troops abroad, it will be to defend our values.’ Powell replied, ‘No, Prime Minister, values exist in a transcendental realm, beyond space and time. They can neither be fought for, nor destroyed.’ Mrs. Thatcher looked utterly baffled. She had just been presented with the difference between Toryism and American Republicanism.

The American people are sick and tired of sending their sons and daughters to defend and attack abstract values. How many more American lives are we willing to loose in an attempt to bring democracy to another country? Enough is enough. “War is about striking what matters most with all of ones might. War is about winning,” as Enoch Powell once warned his countrymen.

In his statement on Afghanistan, President Trump made it clear that he understands war. War is not about “sending a message.” War is not about making America a “universal nation.” War is not about bringing democracy to a foreign land. War is not about nation building. As President Trump said, “Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition … We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”

The great Roman statesman Cato the Elder did not conclude his speeches by saying “we must bring our values to Carthage,” or “we must make Carthage safe for democracy.” But, from the floor of the Roman Senate he thundered “Cathago delenda est!” (“Carthage must be destroyed!”). Rome’s triumph over Carthage began with a certain tone. A strong statesman set the tone. The soldiers understood what the mission was. They understood what victory was.  And, when the Romans ventured to Carthage for a third Punic War, they were sure of one thing: there would not be a fourth. And, there wasn’t.

It begins with tone. “If the sound of the trumpet be not certain, who will ready himself for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8)

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore


John M. Howting III is a Catholic traditionalist from Southeast Michigan with a strong interest in the English Catholic literary revival. Follow him on twitter @howtingmi.

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