Diary

Trump to Announce New Afghanistan Strategy

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junker and European Council President Donald Tusk at European Union headquarters, Thursday, May 25, 2017, in Brussels. From left, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Sunday afternoon the White House announced that President Trump will speak Monday night “to provide an update on the path forward for America’s engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia.”

The background here is that the administration has been considering two basic paths: One path, favored by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, involves increasing the number of US troops on the ground.

The other path involves effectively privatizing the war: Blackwater cofounder Erik Prince and billionaire investor Stephen Feinberg each have proposals to rely largely on private contractors in Afghanistan. Prince and Feinberg have both met with top administration officials about their plans.

Mattis confirmed last week that the administration was indeed considering the proposals involving contractors. But as Rosie Gray reported Friday at The Atlantic,

“The adults hate it,” said a congressional aide who has seen the plan, referring to McMaster, Mattis, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly…

According to officials familiar with the proposals, Mattis, McMaster, [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson, and others in the administration have two main objections to the Prince plan: One is that they believe Prince is downplaying how much it will truly cost, and the other is that they assume allies will ditch the U.S.-led effort once a switch is made to contractors instead of uniformed troops.

Per Gray’s reporting, the chief advocates within the administration for considering Prince or Feinberg’s proposals have been the President’s neophyte son-in-law Jared Kushner and the just-departed chief strategist Steve Bannon. The President’s speech tomorrow should thus give some indication of who holds sway in the post-Bannon White House.

And what should we expect Trump to announce? Sunday morning Mattis said Trump “has made a decision” and wants to be the one to announce it.

As is so often the case with the Trump presidency, even the most serious issues are handled like a reality TV show reveal.

UPDATE: If  Just Security deputy managing editor Kate Brannen’s sources are to be believed, the surprise has been spoiled: Trump is going along with Mattis and McMaster.