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Trump wants to give peace a chance, and it's not working
Your humble Pentagon correspondent is taking a break from covering Marines who have run afoul of the Corps' social media policy in order to write about something that has nothing to do with rap artist R. Kelly: World peace.
Now in his third year in office, it is clear that President Donald Trump thinks he can will the world to finally be at peace. But when it comes to his grand proclamations of victory versus actual conditions on the ground, the president's reach often exceeds his grasp.
On Feb. 28, Trump told service members at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson that ISIS in Syria had lost all "100%" of its former territory in Syria – two years faster than one general told him it would take. Had the victory that he wanted so badly for so long finally come to pass?
Well, no. Hours before the president spoke, the head of the Syrian Democratic Forces told Reuters that it would take another week to capture ISIS' last stronghold in Syria.
As so often happens in the Pentagon when the president speaks, defense officials scurried to figure out what Trump meant and referred reporters' questions to the White House.
It is just the latest example of the president declaring that ISIS has either been defeated or is on the verge of the defeat. In December, he vowed to bring all U.S. troops from Syria home, prompting then-Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign. Now he seems comfortable with leaving several hundred troops in the country – until he changes his mind again.
Meanwhile, Trump is so desperate to leave Afghanistan that a U.S. peace envoy is negotiating with the Taliban – without including the Afghan government. (British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain took the same approach when negotiating with Hitler about Czechoslovakia. Afterward, he announced he had secured, "peace for our time.")
The New York Times reported on Feb, 28 that the U.S. government's latest peace plan calls for withdrawing all foreign troops from Afghanistan over five years. The plan is reminiscent of U.S. demands in an earlier war for a "decent interval" between the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Vietnam and the communists' final victory. (That turned out to be two years and one month.)
Trump has made clear that he feels the post Sept. 11 wars have been a waste of money that have accomplished nothing. He would much rather invest in F-35 fighters and other high tech weapons in the hopes that such military might will ensure Russia and China would never attack the United States – peace through strength.
However, the president has a more laudable motive to end the Forever Wars: It is painful for him to console the grief-stricken families of the fallen.
"I get very saddened when I have to write letters or call parents or wives or husbands of soldiers who have been killed fighting for our country," Trump said in a Dec. 19 video in which he announced his initial Syria withdrawal. "It's a great honor; we cherish them; but it's heartbreaking."
On this point, the president has the moral high ground, especially compared to retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whose best advice for the way forward in Afghanistan was "to keep a limited number of forces there and just kind of muddle along and see what we can do."
One region where Trump does not seem to be willing to pay any price for peace is the Korean peninsula. The president surprised many by walking away from an offer by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to dismantle a nuclear complex in return for ending sanctions.
It had appeared as though Trump wanted to score a foreign policy win by signing an agreement with Kim – no matter how imperfect it was. Yet unlike in Syria and Afghanistan, the president wasn't willing to abandon his allies for a face-saving compromise.
"I could've signed an agreement today, and then you people would've said: 'Oh, what a terrible deal. What a terrible thing he did,'" Trump told reporters in Hanoi on Thursday. "And, you know, there was a potential we could've signed something today. I could've 100 percent signed something today. We actually had papers ready to be signed, but it just wasn't appropriate. I want to do it right. I'd much rather do it right than do it fast."
Still, the Defense Department announced late on March 2 that it will replace major wargames in South Korea that had been scheduled for this month with "newly designed command post exercises and revised field training programs."
It is too early to draw any lessons about how the failure of his summit with Kim will affect Trump's hopes for world peace. But it appears that one lesson the president has yet to learn is that hope is not a plan.
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SEE ALSO: Otto Warmbier's parents blast North Korean leader over son's death after Trump accepts excuse 'he didn't know about it'
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Jeff Schogol covers the Pentagon for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 13 years and embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Haiti. Prior to joining T&P, he covered the Marine Corps and Air Force at Military Times. Comments or thoughts to share? Send them to Jeff Schogol via email at email@example.com or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.
An Austrian soldier was apparently killed by two military working dogs that he was charged with feeding, the Austrian Ministry of Defense announced on Thursday.
She's photographed every major war of the last 20 years. Marine Corps boot camp was something else entirely
Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario has seen a hell of a lot of combat over the past twenty years. She patrolled Afghanistan's Helmand Province with the Marines, accompanied the Army on night raids in Baghdad, took artillery fire with rebel fighters in Libya, and has taken photos in countless other wars and humanitarian disasters around the world.
Along the way, Addario captured images of plenty of women serving with pride in uniform, not only in the U.S. armed forces, but also on the battlefields of Syria, Colombia, South Sudan and Israel. Her photographs are the subject of a new article in the November 2019 special issue of National Geographic, "Women: A Century of Change," the magazine's first-ever edition written and photographed exclusively by women.
The photos showcase the wide range of goals and ideals for which these women took up arms. Addario's work includes captivating vignettes of a seasoned guerrilla fighter in the jungles of Colombia; a team of Israeli military police patrolling the streets of Jerusalem; and a unit of Kurdish women guarding ISIS refugees in Syria. Some fight to prove themselves, others seek to ignite social change in their home country, and others do it to liberate other women from the grip of ISIS.
Addario visited several active war zones for the piece, but she found herself shaken by something much closer to home: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.
Addario discussed her visit to boot camp and her other travels in an interview with Task & Purpose, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead
"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."
Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.
They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.
As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.
But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.
Federal court judge Reggie Walton in Washington D.C. has ruled Hoda Muthana, a young woman who left her family in Hoover, Alabama, to join ISIS, is not a U.S. citizen, her attorneys told AL.com Thursday.
The ruling means the government does not recognize her a citizen of the United States, even though she was born in the U.S.
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- The Marine Corps could train as many as eight co-ed companies at boot camp each year, and the general overseeing the effort is hitting back against those complaining that the move is lowering training standards.
"Get over it," Maj. Gen. William Mullen, the head of Training and Education Command told Military.com on Thursday. "We're still making Marines like we used to. That has not changed."
Mullen, a career infantry officer who has led troops in combat — including in Fallujah, Iraq — said Marines have likely been complaining about falling standards since 1775.
"I'm assuming that the second Marine walking into Tun Tavern was like 'You know ... our standards have gone down. They're just not the same as it they used to be,'" Mullen said, referring to the service's famous birthplace. "That has always been going on in the history of the Marine Corps."