The trio known in foreign policy circles as “the adults” of the Trump administration wants the president to send more American soldiers into Afghanistan. Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are advocating for yet another troop increase less than three years after the U.S. officially transferred all security responsibility to the Afghans. But it’s Steve Bannon, the White House’s controversial chief political strategist, whom President Trump should listen to before dispatching his advisers to brief Congress on the strategy in mid-July.
As commander-in-chief Trump has granted the U.S. military tremendous latitude to resource operations as it sees fit. So Trump may not be inclined to overrule the Pentagon’s recommendation for 3,000 to 5,000 more American trainers and advisers to support the 8,500 troops. It seems clear, though, that the administration is divided over the decision – and Steve Bannon is the most influential adviser in the White House urging Trump to think twice before deploying those forces. In fact, Bannon may be the only aide among the non-interventionist camp in the White House, which also includes senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, who has sufficient access to the president to persuade him to carefully review the military’s request before approving it.
In this case, Bannon, who was removed from the National Security Council in April, is right. One doesn’t have to agree with Bannon’s world view or nationalist ideology to recognize his logical and pragmatic perception of the war in Afghanistan.