This article originally appeared on my Newsmax column.
Despite such a major legislative victory for the Trump administration, tax reform is not Trump’s greatest success. His real victory lies in the administration’s comprehensive approach to fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and around the globe, by relaxing the military’s rules of engagement.
Early firings, resignations, and investigations have called into question many of Trump’s cabinet members and staff. However, one appointment that Trump unequivocally got right is his Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis. Mattis spent over a decade embroiled in the Iraq War and earned a reputation as a cunning fighter who instills his men with a sense of integrity and hope. Many have compared his leadership style to that of General George Patton, and his nickname — Mad Dog — resembles nothing less. However, what is often lost behind that nickname is the scholar and thinker in Mattis. After he retired, Mattis became a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think-tank based out of Stanford, where he wrote extensive pieces on American national security, the fight against terrorism, and the interplay between warriors and citizens. These two aspects of his personality have led some to refer to him as the “warrior monk.” Regardless, his leadership in both the cabinet and pentagon has been impeccable.
On the campaign trail, President Trump promised to “lift restrictions and expand authorities” for U.S. military units fighting against terrorism in Afghanistan and around the globe. Almost immediately upon taking office, Mattis began to develop plans to lift those restrictions. In October, Mattis announced that the administration would be rolling back several Obama-era restrictions on military engagement. Approved by a committee of the top officials in national security, these changes most notably remove proximity requirements put in place by the cautious Obama administration.
“We are no longer bound by the need for proximity to our forces. It used to be we have to basically be in contact with that enemy,” Mattis said at a congressional hearing, as reported by the Military Times. The loosening of these rules could allow the U.S. military to move more quickly when engaging members of the Taliban or ISIS and expand military operations outside of designated “war zones,” laying the groundwork for counterterrorism operations in countries where the U.S. has not been previously engaged. The changes would also expand kill missions by the military and CIA — limited by the Obama administration to include only those targets who pose “a continuing and imminent threat to Americans” — to include any foot-soldier jihadist, as well as roll back vetting procedures for certain drone strikes and raids.
Many have argued that an expansion of military operations would place an increasing number of civilian lives in danger. However, administration officials agreed to keep in place an Obama-era requirement of “near certainty” that no civilian bystanders will be harmed in order to carry out these attacks.
The Trump administration is also committing to placing U.S. and allied advisors in lower-level Afghan units, in order to streamline communication with those units closer to enemy forces. The proximity to these units will allow U.S. and NATO forces to quickly supply much-needed air support to Afghan militaries fighting against the Taliban.
President Trump has placed the fight against terrorism once again in the competent hands of our military leaders, and nowhere is that more evident than in the leadership of Secretary of Defense Mattis.
By rolling back the bureaucratic red tape that has hampered military operations for years, the U.S. will now be able to implement a comprehensive approach to fighting terrorism across the globe and defending our nation from those who wish us harm. While Trump may deserve much of the criticism he receives, his support and respect for our military is a refreshing shift from the previous eight years, and deserves recognition as one of his finest victories.
Special thanks to Daniel Bruce, a member of my firm, who helped write, research, and edit this piece. Daniel has previously written for Yellowhammer News, the largest conservative news source in Alabama, and is studying political science and economics at Auburn University. You can follow him on Twitter @d_bruce96.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Gage Skidmore