President Donald Trump compared the debate over how to proceed in Afghanistan to the disastrous renovation of one of his favourite New York City restaurants in a July meeting with his top generals, according to a report from NBC News.
Trump has been weighing options for what to do in the nearly 16-year-old conflict since taking office, and has entertained ideas from Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford, as well as his National Security Adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
But many in the room were stunned when the president compared their advice to that of a consultant to New York’s famed “21” Club. Trump, according to NBC, said the consultant offered bad advice to the restaurant’s owner while asserting that it may have been better to talk to the wait-staff instead.
“Officials said Trump kept stressing the idea that lousy advice cost the owner a year of lost business and that talking to the restaurant’s waiters instead might have yielded a better result,” NBC reported. “He also said the tendency is to assume if someone isn’t a three-star general he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and that in his own experience in business talking to low-ranking workers has gotten him better outcomes.”
The president also said in the meeting that he had spoken with a number of Afghanistan veterans, many of which offered critiques of NATO contributions and how the overall war was being handled.
The top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, has called for “a few thousand” more troops in order to break what he has described as a stalemate.
Although the Pentagon characterises the situation there as a stalemate, the latest assessment from the Institute for the Study of War, released in February 2016, shows the situation has been deteriorating, especially since troop levels were lowered significantly after 2011.
Trump in June gave Mattis the authority to set troop levels there, though he has not yet sent additional forces.
There are roughly 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, half of which come from NATO partners.