During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, it was hard to get a firm grasp on Donald Trump’s intended national security policy. His own lack of experience and his campaign’s scarcity of advisers steeped in defense issues led candidate Trump to rely on broad themes and searing criticism of the policies of the Obama administration—and by extension Hillary Clinton’s likely approach to the world.
Now, with only weeks until Trump takes office, he has much of the senior echelon of his national security team in place and is beginning to flesh out his policy. As the Trump strategy emerges, the tensions and contradictions in it are also coming into view.
On Tuesday, the president-elect used a “thank you” rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to emphasize one of his campaign themes: that “our focus must be on defeating terrorism and destroying ISIS.” The words “defeat” and “destroy” are important. Clearly Trump does not share President Barack Obama’s view that violent Islamic extremism must be managed or contained until it burns out. While both Trump and Obama want the so-called Islamic State gone, they differ on how to make it happen and how quickly it can be done.