The Continued “War On Terror” Is Now Under Trump’s Control


A large part of President Donald Trump’s campaign was centred around how he was going to “crush and destroy ISIS.” However, details on how exactly this would be done have been sparse. He has said it would be done “very, very quickly” and that America would “replace chaos with peace.” As an area that Trump seems to be so confident in, he should be expected to be successful. Success is bringing peace and stability, not only by keeping America safe from the terror threat that ISIS poses, but by bringing peace to the Middle East and North Africa where ISIS has done most of its damage and where conflict is widespread. With Trump refusing to take in refugees from these areas, he must secure their safety in other ways. So, what should we expect from the next four years and the “war on terror” under a new President?

Firstly, Trump has consistently criticized Former President Barack Obama’s strategy for fighting ISIS. He called Obama “the founder of ISIS” and Trump’s Vice-President Mike Pence said that “the failed policies of President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the wider Middle East, created a vacuum within Iraq in which ISIS was able to arise.” So, from these comments alone we can safely assume Trump will be taking a different path from his predecessor. Reports have recently come in that the new President and his team have scrapped plans to take the Syrian City of Raqqa from ISIS, claiming that the plan was “incremental and risk-averse,” and that there were “huge gaps in it.” The plan reportedly outlined how to arm the Syrian Kurds and advance on Raqqa, however, it was not carried out by the Obama administration due to the time constraints of his term [1].

It is estimated that the size of the ISIS and Al-Qaeda terror groups at the end of the Obama era is half the size of 2014, when they were at their peak [2]. The former President’s strategy to fight against the rising conflict and the threat of extremism has been one of many parts, which was a big part of the criticism his strategy received. He has supported and armed anti-government forces in Syria, entered coalitions with many different countries to use local forces, tried cutting off ISIS funding, and used drones to gain intelligence for future airstrikes. Airstrikes should be central to Obama’s war legacy. In 2016 alone, under his governance, America dropped over 26,000 bombs overseas [3].

Strikes can be carried out on all “combatants.” A combatant has been defined as all males of military age in regions of conflict [3]. This allows American Presidents to bomb in any area where there are adult males, often where many civilians reside. Obama entered the White House, and he was largely viewed as a commander-in-chief that would be reluctant to enter war and conflict. However, he leaves the White House having spent both terms in an on-going war and, like many of his predecessors, with a lot of blood on his hands.

Donald Trump has been a big critic of Obama’s strategy to fight ISIS over the last eight years, and so we should expect a big change in direction with the new administration. His populist stance leads us to believe that his strategy will be flaunted for the people of America by using violence to show the world that he is “being tough” on terror. One of his first moves as President was the well-publicized “Travel Ban” on 7 predominantly Muslim nations, which has been denied by judges as “unlawful” and “unconstitutional.” It was described by Senator Angus King as “the worst foreign policy decision since the invasion of Iraq. What it’s done is played right into ISIS’ hands.”

Experts, such as Fawaz Gerges state that “By banning Muslims, lumping them with radical Islamism, Donald Trump provides ammunition and motivation for al Qaeda and ISIS” [4]. Trump must be careful when carrying out his aggressive foreign policy. Recently, he put further sanctions on Iran and also talked about dumping the Iran-U.S deal Obama set up over a year ago. Iran has since begun military exercises as a display of strength and defiance to the U.S. Trump has been warned against dismantling the deal by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Defense Secretary James Mattis amongst many other experts [5]. While Trump claims, he will be “tough” following an administration he criticized heavily and that he believes was weak [6], the new President must maintain good foreign relations and avoid further confrontation.

Foreign relations are an area where Obama and Trump differ significantly. Obama is wise in the way he used local forces, rather than risking American lives and maintained strong relations with allies around the world, which gave the U.S support in the Middle East. However, Trump seems to struggle with foreign relations and may not find allies so eager to give him support. He also seems less concerned with human life. Recently, Trump was not present in the Situation Room for a botched military mission he ordered in Yemen. The mission saw one American killed, with multiple injured. But, most worryingly, up to 30 Yemeni civilians were killed. This is a worrying sign in the early stages of the Trump Presidency as it is claimed that the mission was ordered by Trump with insufficient intelligence [7].

While Trump’s well-publicized, early moves as President have been in a very different direction from Obama’s, his fight with ISIS will likely not be as different to his predecessor’s as he claims [8,9]. During his campaign, Trump said that he would “bomb the s**t out of ‘em,” which is exactly what Obama did. He is currently working with his top advisors and met with personnel at The Pentagon to organize their strategy [6]. Trump’s plan, which will be strongly influenced by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, will likely be primarily based on airstrikes, like Obama’s was. It is also likely to include a more involved approach, which could include U.S aircraft/ships entering the battle zone [10] and the possibility of ground troops in the future, thus putting the lives of American’s and those in the conflict areas at further risk. Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno states that “There are limits to military power” and that a “sustainable outcome” is needed [11]. To ensure a sustainable outcome for these nations that suffer from conflict and uncertainty, strong diplomacy is needed from the new ‘leader of the free world.’

The expectation is that Trump will take a less calculated and more flamboyant approach to the fight on terror than Obama did, one that will be more focused on dominating the news than solving the problem. As America continues a “War on Terror,” it is important that they remember that the war is for peace and stability. Trump must ensure that his actions are beneficial for the people suffering from the conflicts and that he is working to bring peace and stability back to a region troubled by violence and terror.

Jonathon Arrell

Jono is currently completing a Masters of Politics at The University of Otago in New Zealand. He has a particular interest in regional cooperation and integration to increase regional stability.
Jonathon Arrell

About Jonathon Arrell

Jono is currently completing a Masters of Politics at The University of Otago in New Zealand. He has a particular interest in regional cooperation and integration to increase regional stability.