Joe Biden’s team have been finding Trump’s legacies littered right across government, and nowhere more so than in the Pentagon. The new president moved fast with numerous presidential directives, but he also faces the problem of vast numbers of appointments made in the last few months of Trump’s control, even after the outgoing president had lost the election.
In the Pentagon, for example, several hundred appointments were made to a wide range of advisory boards covering defence policy, health, science and business. They were made even as late as November and December by Trump’s ultra-loyal acting secretary of defense, Christopher Miller. The appointees included retired brigadier and former Fox News commentator Anthony Tata, and even Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.
Just like the presidential directives, though, Biden has acted quickly to change this. His new secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, has announced a broad review of the advisory boards and ordered hundreds of board members to resign their posts by 16 February at the latest, including several dozen late appointments. While the numbers give an indication of the problems Biden faces, the rapidity of the actions indicate his determination to change the Trump culture across government.
Trump emboldened the Taliban
The problem, though, is that it is all very well what you do in Washington, but the Pentagon’s greatest challenges lie in conflict zones. My column from a fortnight ago covered this topic, looking at both Afghanistan and North Korea, as well as pointing to political uncertainty in Tunisia as a marker for wider problems across the Middle East and North Africa.
In the case of Afghanistan, the issue was that Trump had ordered all the 9,000-plus soldiers to leave by the end of April, whatever the state of the US/Taliban negotiations. Currently there are 2,500 left, and the Taliban insist there will be no further progress towards settlement until after the departure of all US troops – as well as the 7,000 troops from other NATO member states.
The Taliban have adopted the tactic of making government forces their targets rather than foreign troops. This became even more evident with the publishing this week of the latest report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Although the SIGAR post is governmental, it was established by Congress in 2008 and its current director, John Sopko, is a well-regarded and experienced federal civil servant.