Since his election, Trump authorized a January 29 raid against an al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen
that left one Navy SEAL dead, three injured and killed more than 20 civilians. He has sent hundreds of additional troops to fight ISIS after taking office. In Somalia, Trump this week gave US Africa Command more authority
to pursue the terror group al Shabaab.
The moves have given US power a shot in the arm, according to observers like Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who served in Iraq and now teaches at Ohio State University. “President Trump has given much more leeway to his military commanders to strike, and they’re striking,” Mansoor told CNN. “And I think that does send a message around the world that America’s back.”
It has also forced US adversaries to “have a different calculus,” Pavel said. As a comparison, he pointed to President Barack Obama’s 2013 declaration that chemical weapons use in Syria would cross a “red line” — and
decision not to attack after President Bashar al-Assad gassed and killed more than 1,400 people.
Asked Thursday if the strikes sent a message to North Korea, Trump said “I don’t know,” but added, “It doesn’t make a difference if it does. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of.”
North Korea, which celebrated a major national holiday Friday that it often marks with a show of military aggression, has complained that Trump policies, words and tweets “make trouble” and that the US has become “more vicious and more aggressive” under the new president.
With Pyongyang soon expected to conduct a sixth nuclear test, Vice President Mike Pence is headed to Asia this weekend, with stops in Seoul, Jakarta, Tokyo and Sydney.
Trump was also asked if he had given the green light for the military to use what’s known as the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan. “What I do is I authorize my military,” Trump said. “We’ve given them total authorization and frankly that’s why they have been so successful lately.”
But that “total authorization” has raised concerns that Trump may be placing too much emphasis on military solutions to diplomatic problems and may be shirking responsibility along with authorization.
“I think President Trump has ceded a lot of authority to the military, a lot of decision-making power to the military, and he’s quite happy to take credit for that when things go well,” said Derek Chollet, a former assistant secretary of defense who is now an executive vice president at The German Marshall Fund. “The question in my mind is whether he will be willing to share accountability when things go wrong, as, unfortunately, military affairs often do.”
There’s a saying in the military, noted retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, that, “You can delegate authority. You cannot delegate responsibility.”
Hertling, a CNN military analyst, explained: “When you tell someone that you trust them to do something, you still own it as a senior commander. And as the commander in chief, Mr. Trump, doesn’t get much more senior than that. He owns this and whatever happens in many different hot spots across the world.” Pavel, of the Atlantic Council, said he hoped “it’s not an undisciplined use of military force, playing whack-a-mole.”
Figuring out Trump’s approach is perhaps more difficult than with previous presidents because of the speed with which he has done U-turns on core campaign positions.