Trump shouldn't let himself be manipulated by agenda-driven cronies

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS -- Despite his generally good instincts, U.S. President Donald Trump is proving that his biggest weakness is on the foreign affairs front, an area where his background is lacking. This forces him to rely on unelected advisers, many of whom seem to be peddling their own agendas.

Take, for instance, the speech that National Security Adviser John Bolton gave to the Federalist Society earlier this month. Bolton seemed to be virtue-signaling Israel by announcing that America was closing the Palestinian mission in Washington, and by threatening the International Criminal Court with sanctions if it pursued investigations of America or Israel for war crimes. It's hard to imagine either of these things being at the top of the average American's foreign policy priority list.

I met Bolton when he was in Paris a few years ago for a Friends of Israel event, and he has addressed the exiled Iranian opposition, whose main base is in Paris. I have also heard from a number of financiers, lobbyists and former generals who have passed through town on various agenda-peddling roadshows. One American general invited me to an Iranian opposition rally, suggesting that attending would be the patriotic thing to do. I declined.

The general's political pickup line made little sense to me. How exactly does messing around in Iran -- or anywhere else in the Middle East, for that matter -- translate into a patriotic endeavor? Sure, it's understandable why America and its allies invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The architect of those attacks, Saudi national Osama bin Laden , was being sheltered by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The mission was originally limited to neutralizing the Taliban. That should have been the end of America's involvement in Afghanistan. Instead, the mission has since been redefined as "nation-building"

It's absurd to reason that America can't leave because terrorism would flourish. When was the last time a Taliban member committed an act of terrorism in America, Europe or in any other Western nation? The only threat the Taliban poses is to armed foreigners who insist on staying in Afghanistan -- and after 17 years, the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan could legitimately be characterized as an occupation.

Trump really doesn't have to deal with Afghanistan at all if he doesn't want to. He just has to declare a belated victory and leave. It's as simple as that.

Osama bin Laden is dead . Mission accomplished. If American companies want to pursue business opportunities on the wild Afghan frontier, they should do it on their own. The U.S. government could offer tax breaks to these companies to encourage business development and to offset the costs of venturing into the unknown -- just as Elon Musk's SpaceX gets government subsidies for blasting homemade rockets into space.

If the U.S. government was really concerned about terrorism, it should have started by sanctioning Saudi Arabia based on the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks were Saudis. It also could have sanctioned Saudi Arabia for supporting the Islamic State, which committed terrorist attacks inside Western nations. But the Saudis won't be sanctioned because they buy American weapons. So does their regional ally, Israel. Both nations do as much string-pulling in the Middle East as does America's perennial whipping boy, Iran.

Why is America even still involved in the region at all, particularly when it stands on the verge of total energy independence from the Middle East?

The fact that the U.S. still has a presence in Afghanistan can only mean one thing: Trump actually believes what his advisers are whispering in his ear. These people have their own agendas, seeking personal profit or patronage payback while they wrap themselves in the American flag.