Trump and Obama: A Comparison of Goals, Strategies and Tactics
While campaigning for president, Donald Trump was severely critical of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. He drew particular attention to his predecessor’s preference for announcing to the world his military strategies. Obama’s decision to move troops into Mosul and announce it publicly weeks in advance was a particular sore spot with Trump. In one debate after another Trump warned that if he were elected President he would not be foolish enough to tell his enemies his military strategies, lest he give them an opportunity to take countermeasures. The heartburn many Trump supports are feeling right now over the Syrian missile strike is due to the different ways in which Obama and Trump publicly discuss their use of the military. This article will explain how different approaches to discussing foreign policy can shape public perception and create different concerns.
It will help to have a basic understanding of the different types of military actions, which can be roughly divided into three categories: goals (or objectives), strategies, and tactics. Goals are the things we hope to accomplish. Strategies are the plans or blueprints we devise to achieve our goals. Tactics are the specific tasks we undertake to support a goal. A company of soldiers may be sent to a village to remove terrorists. This is a goal. Once a goal is established, the next step is deciding how it’s going to be accomplished. When we discuss how something is going to be done we’re talking about strategies and tactics.
A strategy for soldiers trying to eliminate terrorists from a village might involve clearing buildings. A tactic would be to use teams of four men who go from building to building conducting a physical search. That’s one strategy but there are other options. A different strategy would be to kill all the occupants of the village. A tactic to accomplish that would be aerial bombing. There are different tactics and strategies that can be employed to accomplish any goal.
President Obama spoke publicly about where he was going to deploy his troops. Troop placement is a strategy. He discussed what his troops were going to do. Troop activity is a tactic. He didn’t discuss radical Islamic terrorism or its removal. To do so would define a goal and he wasn’t interested in revealing his goals. He chose instead to reveal his strategies and tactics. What we see with Donald Trump is the exact opposite. Trump has said repeatedly that his main foreign policy goal is the elimination of radical Islamic terrorism. But when pressed to reveal his strategies and tactics, he’s remained silent. It’s only after a particular tactic has been used that we learn how he plans to accomplish his goals.
Public trust is more influenced by strategies and tactics than goals. A new foreign policy goal may go unnoticed by the media. A missile launch or the deployment of a carrier group will dominate the news headlines. It’s easy to trust a president when they tell you what they’re going to do, tactically or strategically. Obama influenced public opinion regularly by showcasing his strategies and tactics.
Trump hasn’t told us what he plans to do, strategically or tactically in the Middle East. He’s chosen only to discuss his goals. He’s openly criticized regime change as a foreign policy goal. That’s what he plans not to do. The main goal he’s endorsed is the elimination of ISIS. Everything he does then, strategically and tactically, will support that goal—even though it may seem as if it supports a different one.
The fact that Trump prefers to conceal his strategies and tactics has created fear among people who need to trust him. But it shouldn’t. Although public perception is shaped more by strategies and tactics, goals are far more important. Trump’s goals have been clearly defined. They’re reasonable. Eliminating ISIS is a goal that no sensible person would question.
Some have backed Trump’s decision to send missiles into Syria not because they approve of his tactics, but because they understand and agree with his goal. Others who have previously criticized him are backing him because they mistakenly think he’s supporting a goal that he does not. They believe he has plans to continue the policy of regime change. Their support will only last until they realize their miscalculation.
Some of Trump’s supporters have criticized him, fearing that his tactics are supporting the goal of regime change, which they don’t approve of. Those fears seem unfounded. If we know anything about Trump, we know his goals. He’s been telling us about them for decades. Regime change isn’t one of them. To suddenly change his goals would be out of character. As late as April 12th, he reaffirmed that he has no plans for a significant military presence in Syria.
The other major goal Trump has discussed is bringing stability to the Korean peninsula. As expected, he’s not speaking in terms of strategies or tactics. As that situation develops, it will help to keep in mind the goal he’s already told us about. We need to learn how to trust a President who only reveals his goals and not his strategies or tactics.
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