When President Trump Goes to War
A new commander in chief will soon face hard decisions about how and when to deploy America’s military might. What principles should guide him?By Eliot A. Cohen, WSJ
Nov. 18, 2016 10:25 a.m. ET
President-elect Donald Trump does not speak softly, but he clearly believes in military power—what Theodore Roosevelt called “the big stick.” Like all of his predecessors, however, he will soon discover that it isn’t enough to brandish armed force: He will find himself having to use it.
On Jan. 20, Mr. Trump will inherit three wars: Iraq, Afghanistan and the global campaign against various jihadist movements. He will also have to make decisions about other flashpoints that could, willy-nilly, drag the U.S. into armed conflict: Iran’s efforts to dominate the Persian Gulf, North Korea’s drive to build a nuclear-armed long-range missile, China’s aggression in the South and East China Seas and, yes, his friend Vladimir Putin’s bullying of our NATO allies in the Baltics.
As he prepares to take office, Mr. Trump needs to do some hard thinking about 21st-century warfare and strategy. I should say that, along with many other Republican national-security experts, I publicly opposed Mr. Trump’s bid for the presidency, and I have not been encouraged by the start he has made in assembling a national-security team for his administration.
For all my concerns, however, I have no reason to think that Mr. Trump is eager to wage war. He is smart enough to be aware of its hazards. But even a president as averse to the use of military force as Barack Obama ended up being a war president: He massively expanded targeting killing with drones, intervened to overthrow the Libyan regime, prolonged the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan and has now re-engaged in Iraq to take on Islamic State. Mr. Obama no doubt felt that he had little choice, and Mr. Trump will feel the same pressures.