Category Archives: home-news

Trump’s infrastructure plan: What you need to know

Washington – President Trump has unveiled a $1.5 trillion plan to fix America’s cracking infrastructure. This was one of the few, if only, converging points for the otherwise polarizing 2016 election. Candidate Trump was amongst the first to bring up this issue and advocate for US tax-payer money to be funneled towards modernizing domestic infrastructure, as opposed to investing money abroad. Since, he has repeatedly blamed the “crumbling” state of the US economy on the nation’s poor roads and highways.

After unveiling a $4 trillion budget plan on Monday, the Trump administration has steered away from a long-standing Republican ideology of slashing the deficit. In the short-term, this means the federal deficit will rise past the $1 trillion mark.

The plan will also rely heavily on state and local governments for funding. Specifically, $200 billion of the $1.5 trillion would be federal dollars allocated from “reductions in other areas of the budget. This funding will match local spending and provide “incentives” and expand loan programs.

A major focus of this plan is to invest in rural America, which includes transportation, broadband, water, and waster/flood management systems.

What is truly amazing about this plan is the slashing of red-tape that has shackled Washington for all these years. The permitting process can take up to an astonishing 10 years today. This is seen as “fundamentally broken” by the White House, according to a senior official. The proposed plan will slash this to just about 2 years, by commissioning a single federal agency that makes decisions on such bids. This will also curb “duplicative” efforts, delays, and other problems that arise because of such timelines.

It is clear that the President is opting for an ‘addition by subtraction’ method here. Short-term, the deficit will grow, but in the long-term, positive effects on the economy will nullify the initial investment.

This will also be a test for Democrats and will be interesting to see whether they get on board with a plan that is clearly beneficial to the American people or they resort to their ‘#Resist’ banner.

Watch this space.

Source: AP. Image courtesy: VoxThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

Supreme Court stands by ruling; Rejects bid to re-instate ban on ‘Padmaavat’

NEW DELHI, India – India’s Supreme Court rejected bids made by states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday. The Court declared it will stand by its initial ruling, clearing the way for the movie to be released for theaters.

Situation so far

The debate surrounds ‘distorting history’ as groups critical of the project claim that the film portrays a Muslim ruler as the “lover” of Queen Padmavati of the Hindu Rajput warrior clan. This charge is denied by the film makers.

While the film is set for national release for this upcoming weekend, theater owners from the two aforementioned states remain wary of releasing the film without explicit support from state governments. Sandeep Jain, who owns seven theaters in the state of Madhya Pradesh said, “When we approached the local police, we were told that we should show the film at our own risk.”

While right-wing and Conservative Hindu groups continue to hold protests across the country, it seems certain that this release will cause chaos and and maybe even violence.


This seems more about religious complex than about distorting history. This is not to say that the latter doesn’t carry any weight in this argument. Let me illustrate  – imagine another period film being released that portrays the British Raj of India and plays around with facts and actual history. It beggars belief that these groups (or any for that matter) will protest the dissemination of that misinformed content.

Facts are important. Maybe the most important in today’s age. But to suggest this debate is driven by those motivations seem rather hypocritical. Communal tensions have come to the surface in India recently. Earlier, such films, or indeed any art, were absorbed with little to no resistance. It was clear that they were fictional and not representative of actual history (unless specifically mentioned). This distinction may help understand the source of this debate more clearly.

Personally, I have not watched the movie, nor have I a problem with depictions of history/art. What bothers me is the length to which certain individuals/groups will go to cloud a debate. The average consumer is intelligent and a simple disclaimer from the side of the producers, clearly stating that this bears no resemblance to history, ought to suffice.

Ultimately, free speech and related expressions is what make any country free. To limit that based on facts or even obscure motivations is downright dangerous. It is imperative that speech should be classed as fiction/reality/opinion. But to ban speech is ludicrous and non-democratic. ANY groups arguing against that must educate themselves.

Source: Reuters. Image courtesy: VarietyThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

Government Shutdown ends after 69 hours

WASHINGTON – President Trump signed a bill in the late hours of Monday reopening the government and ending a 69-hour exhibition of partisan politics and political dysfunction. Democrats relented for assurances that the Senate will soon take up the plight of ‘dreamers’ and other contentious issues.

This prompted a backlash from immigration activists and liberals expected Democrats to resist for longer. Almost 700,000 young immigrants, who were brought here illegally as children, can be affected by this legislation.

There is no doubt that although a deal has been reached (temporarily), there were huge divides on the Republican side. Red lawmakers differed over strategy of proposals that would make these 700,000 retain/regain status.

As per the agreement, Democrats provided enough votes to pass the stopgap spending measure keeping the government open until Feb. 8. Senate leader Mitch McConnell agreed to resume negotiations over the future of dreamers, border security, military spending and other budget debates. Such a short-term spending measure, riddled with bipartisan issues, may only mean a stalemate three weeks from now.

While the White House claims that Democrats caved under pressure, President Trump is adamant that only a deal “good for our country” shall be struck. While the Republicans hope that their partners in crime on the Left will take the heat for the shutdown(s), this immigration issues (coupled with other related factors) continues to remain unsolved.

Trump accused the Democrats of prioritizing services and security for non-citizens and of pandering to the far left base. On the other hand, the Democrats initially dug in on a demand for an immigration deal. They also shifted to blaming the shutdown on the incompetence of Republicans and Trump.

This feels much like a ticking time bomb that is being passed around the Capitol in an ignorant haste. While the Left tries to remain sensitive to the rights and status of these illegal alien children, the President and the Right is prioritizing law and its application.

Indeed, 3 weeks from now another shutdown only seems inevitable. Until a comprehensive law is passed that solves this immigration issue, the Capitol will continue to struggle from future shutdowns.

Source: AP. Image courtesy: PoliticoThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

Bitcoin: Boom or bust?

WASHINGTON – While the cloud of political uncertainty and nuclear provocation dominates mainstream politics and news, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies continue to thrive in the absence of regulation and standards-based control.  Earlier today, Bitcoin jumped over $10,000. Some experts say it could rise even further. How did Bitcoin surge to this astronomical rate? Is it still a profitable investment, despite its current value? Or, the bubble will burst and cause financial ruin for its holders? We examine these questions and more.

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is the world’s most popular crypto/virtual currency. It has a ‘tainted’ history, initially being employed in non-traceable digital transactions that involved ransoms and purchase of illegal items on the internet. Bitcoin is not tied to any banks/governments and allows for anonymous transactions.

Astronomical rise and value

Financial markets fluctuate – that’s just a fact. But Bitcoin’s fluctuation, and more accurately rise, has been iconic. It was created in 2009 and was valued at $0.05 in 2010. Fast forward to May of 2017, it touched an all-time high of $2,420. As of November 2017, it rose a little over 4.5 times to hit $10,955! (Current value of bitcoin can be found here)

Boom or bust?

Experts suggest that such ascents are rarely sustainable. And although Bitcoin’s recent trajectory has been manic to say the least, it has shown real uses. Retail investors have piled in, we have seen rise of alternatives (like Litecoin, Ethereum), and “initial coin offerings” (ICOs), in which firms issue digital tokens of their own.

Many people have drawn parallels to gold, where there might be more than just a passing resemblance. Goldbugs mistrust governments and their money-printing tendencies. They also prefer the absence of a central bank/institution that is in charge of their currency. But Bitcoin is more ambitious. It is trying to compete with the dollars, euros, and yens of the world.

Regulators too have a keen eye on the trajectory of Bitcoin. And since there has been no action on that front, bitcoin is operating at its limits and its developers cannot agree on how to increase the number of exchanges the system is able to handle. As a result, each transaction can cost up to $4 in fees and can take hours to confirm.

Bitcoin and Blockchain

Bitcoin can be best understood when paralleled to the rise of the internet. It embodies innovation, technology, and innovation in technology. Crypotcurrencies are experiments to realize how to maintain public databases (blockchain), WITHOUT an entity being in charge. At least two states in India are currently testing blockchain to record land deals (see reference). It is clear that such transactions/records need to be secured and that can be a challenging task in today’s digital world. Fans hope that the rise of such entities will give rise to disruptive and decentralized innovators, challenging today’s technological oligopolists like Amazon and Facebook.

What is of prime importance here is the relation between financial markets, technology and regulation. From the sounds of it, this seems a rather dangerous way of generating innovation. According to the Economist however, risks in crypotcurrencies are limited. They argue that investors are aware of risks involved and that cryptocurrencies are self-contained systems, unlikely to cause contagion. They go on to remark that regulators should be wary of such currencies becoming even more popular for criminal activity, but heed caution on enhanced regulation as it would lead to loss of financial assets, and perhaps more importantly, innovation that might follow.

Source: AP and The EconomistThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

A ‘new language’ in Asia: The Indo-Pacific

New Delhi, INDIA – President Donald Trump has been in office for a little under 10 months. In this time, he hasn’t been solely focused on revamping domestic policies, but also on remaking America’s foreign policy. American policy for the vast region between India and Australia, for decades, has been referred to as the “Asia-Pacific”.

Now however, as Trump embarked on his 12-day Asia tour, a ‘new’ term is starting to gain mainstream and more importantly, official status: Indo-Pacific.

Axios sat down with Richard McGregor, a longtime Asia correspondent and former Financial Times bureau chief to read between the lines. McGregor noted that such a switch indicates a new language for America’s role in Asia. It attempts to bring India permanently into the US web of alliances and its a precursor to a new partnership in the region between the US, India, Japan and Australia.

The usage of the term is already becoming popular. National Security Adviser, H. R. McMaster, used it repeatedly while previewing Trump’s trip to Asia in front of reporters. Trump himself used the term publicly while remarking at a cabinet meeting last week. During his visit to India, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, used it at least 15 times.

Although the term itself is not recent, its prescribed application shows a clear plan and strategy. North Korea in the short-term and China in the long-term pose threats to American interests. A revised strategy in dealing with such actors is most basic step in reorganizing and re-prioritizing relations. “A free and open Indo-Pacific speaks to that vision, that we want to see the continued stability. we want to reaffirm our commitment to the continued stability of this region, allowing for freedom of navigation, allow fort he marketplace and free markets, really, to drive the prosperity of this region”, a White House official said.

The Trump administration’s efforts are a clear indicator and a clear message for the US and India to strengthen ties even more as a way to balance China. “The United States supports India’s emergence as a leading power and will continue to contribute to Indian capabilities to provide security throughout the region,” Tillerson noted during a joint press-conference with Swaraj, the minister for external affairs.

Interestingly, Tillerson also touched upon India’s diplomatic ties with North Korea as the US continues and escalates its efforts to isolate Pyongyang. Swaraj responded by stating that although relations with Pyongyang exist (to the extent of a presence of embassies in either capitals), such basic access must be maintained to keep channel of communication open. India has already moved to ban trade of goods, except food and medicine, to join the US in its efforts.

What makes for good news is the strengthening of Indo-US relations and an official acknowledgement from the US, with respect to India’s capability in play a definitive goal in its region. The US must naturally see India as a partner in the region. That is pivotal for a stable and prosperous ‘Indo-Pacific’.

Source: Axios, TOI and Reuters. Image courtesy Reuters.


Russian troll ads from 2016 election released; show sophistication and planning

WASHINGTON – On Tuesday representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google testified in front of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. As has been widely speculated and reported on, Russian interference in the 2016 election has found to be broader and more sophisticated than initially assumed.

More than a 100 million Americans have been expected to come across content created by Russian troll farms. Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, outlined in his opening statement how as many as 126 million Facebook users may have seen content “that originated from the Russian operation.”

This content was specifically aimed at dividing Americans. These troll farms created and shared content on both sides of the political debate, giving rise to all kinds of inflammatory and, in some cases, downright offensive content. Similar practices were found by Twitter executives on their own platforms. Twitter explained how they have uncovered 2,572 Russia-linked accounts and more than 36,000 automated “bots” – amounting to a total of 1.4 million tweets about the election last fall.

These revelations sparked outrage from lawmakers. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who has been a strong ally of Silicon Valley, said “in the past election, you failed.” Republican Senator John Kennedy expressed his frustration with the Facebook as well, noting “I think you do enormous good, but your power scares me.”

It is now clear, from released documents, that the major aim of this Russian-sponsored operation was to create chaos and political discontent within the American community. One particular instance where this is highlighted can be found is Texas. A Russian-controlled group, ‘Heart of Texas’, announced a rally to take place on May 21, 2016 under the banner of “Stop Islamization of Texas.” Consequently, another Russian-controlled group publicized a competing rally to “Save Islamic Knowledge” at the same place and same time.

These findings led Senator Dianne Feinstein to remark, “I don’t think you [big tech] get it. What we are talking about is cataclysmic change. What we’re talking about is the beginning of cyberwarfare. What we’re talking about is a major foreign power with sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country.” What followed in her remarks is pivotal and absolutely crucial – “We are not going away, gentlemen and this is a very big deal.”

Such interferences strike at the very heart of the democratic process. Accompanied by a strategy to sow conflict and discord can be – and has been – of disastrous consequences. It is crucial for big tech companies and social media platforms to uncover any gaps in their systems that allow for such intrusion. Russia’s aims are getting clear by the day. They were not necessarily targeted towards one particular candidate, rather towards civilians who hold their own values and beliefs dear to themselves. What Russia managed to do was stir up these emotions and instill a sense of fear in the American people. These used the popularity and platform of social media to propagate these misgivings/’fake news’ and set the Left and the Right on a collision course. In short, they used the democratic process to discredit the democratic process.

This is more than a partisan issue. By the questions asked and statements made by lawmakers, one gets the sense that they understand the consequences underlined by this intrusion. The quicker these tech companies and online platforms understand and correct this, the better it’ll be, not just for their platforms, but for the entire country.

Image courtesy Gizmodo.

U.S. Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson Thinks India Is More Responsible Than China

This [week] Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson delivered a speech on India to frame his visit to the country next week. Tillerson has offered formal speeches infrequently, and has been less visible on the South Asian region than his predecessors. I’m glad the secretary will finally travel to New Delhi and has finally decided to speak about India. I just wish he had done so earlier.

Tillerson ran through the expected list of U.S.-India accomplishments. He noted the increasing convergence of defense and strategic ties, commented on the need to constantly improve the business environment (an acknowledgement that India remains challenging), and then got to his theme: the United States and India should be partners to further a “free and open Indo-Pacific” because democratic India has been rising as a responsible power, upholding the rule of law and freedom of navigation, while China has not. He contrasted the two powers explicitly and repeatedly.

Tillerson spent time on the emerging problem of what he called “predatory economics” and nontransparent infrastructure financing, urging that, “We need to collaborate with India to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity — so that it does not become a region of disorder, conflict, and predatory economics.”

This clearly referred to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and its financing for infrastructure projects that may or may not be economically viable, with unclear lending terms that may create unsustainable repayment obligations. Here, Tillerson appears to have been influenced by India’s public objections to the BRI for precisely these reasons.

South Asia is in so many ways a test case of what Beijing’s ambitious Initiative will deliver for recipient countries. The results in this region have caused alarm: Sri Lanka, unable to pay back its loan for an unviable port in the city of Hambantota, recently agreed to a debt-for-equity swap giving a Chinese state-owned enterprise majority ownership in the venture formed to operate the port. Sri Lanka can’t make good on the $6 billion loan it reportedly owes China, and the new deal is the result. No one knows what kind of bill Islamabad will eventually see for the $60-plus billion in infrastructure development to create the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

India has been trying to raise this issue on the international stage with little success. Back in May, India refused to attend the Belt and Road Forum in China. As I wrote at the time, the Indian statement on the Belt and Road Forum was forthright in its concerns:

Citing India’s commitment to physical connectivity “in an equitable and balanced manner,” the statement itemizes a series of principles for infrastructure projects that sound like a World Bank investment monitoring report:

  • “must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality”
  • “must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities”
  • “balanced ecological and environmental protection and preservation standards”
  • “transparent assessment of project costs”
  • “skill and technology transfer to help long term running and maintenance of the assets created by local communities”
  • “must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity”

India obviously believes that Belt and Road projects do not meet the above criteria.

Tillerson proposed that the United States and India, as democracies interested in a free and open Indo-Pacific, should partner to develop transparent financial mechanisms that would help build the connectivity needed to increase trade and economic prosperity. He referred to the Millennium Challenge Corporation as one model, noting the recent compact signed with Nepal. But he provided no further specific proposals to sketch out in greater detail how the United States and India should work together to provide alternative financing.

He also did not address how the United States and India would together be able to provide an alternative to meet the extensive infrastructure financing needs in the Indo-Pacific region at a time when the Donald J. Trump administration seeks to shrink the State Department and USAID budgets. Multilaterally, last week Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin declined to support an effort to expand the World Bank capital base to increase development lending. That too, won’t help “expand transparent, high-standard regional lending mechanisms,” to use Tillerson’s words from this morning.

I look forward to further articulation of the concept that the United States and India will further partner to uphold rule of law, freedom of navigation, transparent financing to increase prosperity, and responsible leadership in the Indo-Pacific. Perhaps we’ll hear more next week from Secretary Tillerson in New Delhi.

Watch the full interaction below:


Source: Alyssa Ayres, contributor at Forbes. Image courtesy Forbes. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Trump at the UN: What to watch for in address to General Assembly

New York, NY – As the UN gathers itself in New York, diplomats could be heard chatting about POTUS’ first speech to the General Assembly as a myriad of issues/conflicts seem to gather pace.

Just a refresher, on what Trump thinks about the UN:

He also remarked:

Trump is expected to give a scripted speech from a teleprompter on Tuesday. This could reminiscent of his speeches in Warsaw and Saudi Arabia from earlier this year. But tensions boiling in the Korean peninsula; the Iran nuclear deal in the balance; and, Trump’s lingering decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, this address holds heavy weight. The UN also plays a central role in mediating trade/global relations and in the protection and movement of refugees. These dynamics may also be worth looking out for.

The address is scheduled to tentatively begin at 10:15 AM EDT. You can watch it live below:

Image courtesy: The Hill. Media Courtesy: The White House.

Learning software in classrooms earns praise, causes debate

WASHINGTON — In middle school, Junior Alvarado often struggled with multiplication and earned poor grades in math, so when he started his freshman year at Washington Leadership Academy, a charter high school in the nation’s capital, he fretted that he would lag behind.

But his teachers used technology to identify his weak spots, customize a learning plan just for him and coach him through it. This past week, as Alvarado started sophomore geometry, he was more confident in his skills.

“For me personalized learning is having classes set at your level,” Alvarado, 15, said in between lessons. “They explain the problem step by step, it wouldn’t be as fast, it will be at your pace.”

As schools struggle to raise high school graduation rates and close the persistent achievement gap for minority and low-income students, many educators tout digital technology in the classroom as a way forward. But experts caution that this approach still needs more scrutiny and warn schools and parents against being overly reliant on computers.

The use of technology in schools is part of a broader concept of personalized learning that has been gaining popularity in recent years. It’s a pedagogical philosophy centered on the interests and needs of each individual child as opposed to universal standards. Other features include flexible learning environments, customized education paths and letting students have a say in what and how they want to learn.

Under the Obama administration, the Education Department poured $500 million into personalized learning programs in 68 school districts serving close to a half million students in 13 states plus the District of Columbia. Large organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have also invested heavily in digital tools and other student-centered practices.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning estimates that up to 10 percent of all America’s public schools have adopted some form of personalized learning. Rhode Island plans to spend $2 million to become the first state to make instruction in every one of its schools individualized. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also embraces personalized learning as part of her broader push for school choice.

Supporters say the traditional education model, in which a teacher lectures at the blackboard and then tests all students at the same time, is obsolete and doesn’t reflect the modern world.

“The economy needs kids who are creative problem solvers, who synthesize information, formulate and express a point of view,” said Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner. “That’s the model we are trying to move toward.”

At Washington Leadership Academy, educators rely on software and data to track student progress and adapt teaching to enable students to master topics at their own speed.

This past week, sophomores used special computer programs to take diagnostic tests in math and reading, and teachers then used that data to develop individual learning plans. In English class, for example, students reading below grade level would be assigned the same books or articles as their peers, but complicated vocabulary in the text would be annotated on their screen.

“The digital tool tells us: We have a problem to fix with these kids right here and we can do it right then and there; we don’t have to wait for the problem to come to us,” said Joseph Webb, founding principal at the school, which opened last year.

Webb, dressed in a green T-shirt reading “super school builder,” greeted students Wednesday with high-fives, hugs and humor. “Red boxers are not part of our uniform!” he shouted to one student, who responded by pulling up his pants.

The school serves some 200 predominantly African-American students from high-poverty and high-risk neighborhoods. Flags of prestigious universities hang from the ceiling and a “You are a leader” poster is taped to a classroom door. Based on a national assessment last year, the school ranked in the 96th percentile for improvement in math and in the 99th percentile in reading compared with schools whose students scored similarly at the beginning of the year.

It was one of 10 schools to win a $10 million grant in a national competition aimed at reinventing American high schools that is funded by Lauren Powell Jobs, widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Naia McNatt, a lively 15-year-old who hopes to become “the African-American and female Bill Gates,” remembers feeling so bored and unchallenged in fourth grade that she stopped doing homework and her grades slipped.

At the academy, “I don’t get bored ’cause I guess I am pushed so much,” said McNatt, a sophomore. “It makes you like you need to do more, you need to know more.”

In math class, McNatt quickly worked through quadratic equations on her laptop. When she finished, the system spitted out additional, more challenging problems.

Her math teacher, Britney Wray, says that in her previous school she was torn between advanced learners and those who lagged significantly. She says often she wouldn’t know if a student was failing a specific unit until she started a new one.

In comparison, the academy’s technology now gives Wray instant feedback on which students need help and where. “We like to see the problem and fix the problem immediately,” she said.

Still, most researchers say it is too early to tell if personalized learning works better than traditional teaching.

A recent study by the Rand Corporation found that personalized learning produced modest improvements: a 3 percentile increase in math and a smaller, statistically insignificant increase for reading compared with schools that used more traditional approaches. Some students also complained that collaboration with classmates suffered because everybody was working on a different task.

“I would not advise for everybody to drop what they are doing and adopt personalized learning,” said John Pane, a co-author of the report. “A more cautious approach is necessary.”

The new opportunities also pose new challenges. Pediatricians warn that too much screen time can come at the expense of face-to-face social interaction, hands-on exploration and physical activity. Some studies also have shown that students may learn better from books than from computer screens, while another found that keeping children away from computers for five days in a row improved their emotional intelligence.

Some teachers are skeptical. Marla Kilfoyle, executive director of the Badass Teachers Association, an education advocacy group, agrees that technology has its merits, but insists that no computer or software should ever replace the personal touch, motivation and inspiration teachers give their students.

“That interaction and that human element is very important when children learn,” Kilfoyle said.


Source: Maria Danilova of AP. Image courtesy: The Seattle TimesThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.

Unpacking Trump’s Afghanistan policy; India and Pakistan to play defining roles

Arlington, VA – President Donald Trump addressed his cabinet and various military personnel at Fort Meyer yesterday as he laid down his administration’s policies and strategies for Afghanistan. Trump campaigned on reducing military involvement abroad and vowed to end America’s “needless and disastrous” wars, especially the one in Afghanistan. Yesterday however, in a 26-minute long national address, POTUS made a u-turn and advocated for increased military in the region. This comes in the wake of a full review of the previous administration’s ‘Afghan policy’.


Afghanistan remains one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world. It checks all boxes that could lead to instability: a corrupt, weak government and a resurgent Taliban. Still, victory in Afghanistan has eluded Trump’s predecessors. Despite Bush’s launch in the wake of 9/11 and Obama’s ‘surge’ to 100,000 troops, at its highest point, the region could not be rid of conflict and instability.

Over the years, a myriad of balances have been sought, in terms of military and diplomatic forces/involvement, only to find Afghanistan at the weakest since US boots first stepped on the ground. Trump, too, offered up some of these options. He called out immediate neighbors to the east, Pakistan, seemingly offering them a ‘clean slate’ if they stopped harboring and training terrorists in havens. He even touched upon India’s continued support of stability in Afghanistan and asked for increased help in areas of economic assistance and development (India has provided $3 billion in aid to Afghanistan since 2001).

Trump outlined new ‘pillars’ on Afghan policy and detailed the administration’s goals in the region. “Dismantling al-Qaeda” and “preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan” were met with criticism of being too vague and broad. Further, steering away from “time-commitments”, leaves a sense of un-ending war, one that has already lasted 16 years without much desired impact.

America First

Trump acknowledged that his position on Afghanistan has changed since taking office. What this means for his “America First” manifesto is yet to be realized, especially with a war that seems to have no end. “My original instinct was to pull out,” he confessed as he laid out ‘three fundamental conclusions’ – all of which appeal to patriotism and nationalistic pride. An honorable, enduring outcome; wary of power vacuums; an immense security threats emanating from the region – all, potentially, resonating for his base.

If anything came at a premium during this address, it was finer details. Trump has often criticized former Presidents, especially Obama, for publicly announcing timelines and strategies. He unveiled this will no longer be the case as the administration switches from a “time-based” approach to one based on conditions-on-the-ground. “America will work with the Afghan government as long as we see determination and progress,” Trump noted. “However, our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check.”

Front lines

Currently, there are about 8,500 troops in Afghanistan. In the fight against the Taliban and Islamic State fighters, these soldiers serve as training hubs for Afghan fighters. With threats increasing on the ground, a 4,000-troop increase has been rumored to be circling around the Pentagon.

Members of the military, especially the ones well-versed with the region and the insurgency, have advocated for more troops since they can expedite training and make Afghans more capable of taking the enemy alone. “We need guardian angels,” said Lt. Col. John Sandor, deputy senior adviser for the Afghan Army’s 201st Corps, referring to security forces that would protect U.S. training teams so they can work alongside Afghan brigades.


Source: Image courtesy: The AtlanticThis news summary is compiled and published by the IndoAmerican Center staff.