On May 27, 2015, Donald Trump told Fox News he had a secret plan to defeat ISIS. “I’m not gonna tell you what it is tonight,” he boasted. “I don’t want the enemy to know what I’m doing. Unfortunately, I’ll probably have to tell at some point, but there is a method of defeating them quickly and effectively and having total victory.” In the ensuing months, the Republican nominee has revealed key details of his master plan. It involves such tactics as bombing the shit out of them, knocking the hell out of them (which, in keeping with Trump’s doctrine of strategic ambiguity, may or may not be the same thing), sending in oil companies to take their oil, shutting down parts of the internet, sending in massive numbers of American ground troops, or possibly not using ground troops at all.
These ideas may seem ambiguous and contradictory, but that is exactly the point. True foreign-policy thinkers grasp the value of keeping the enemy off balance. As he explained in April, “I have a great plan. It’s going to be great. They ask, ‘What is it?’ Well, I’d rather not say. I’d rather be unpredictable.”
The most unpredictable element of Trump’s strategy is the role of the generals. At times, he has denigrated their competence. “I know more about ISIS than the generals do,” Trump bragged last year. The generals “don’t know much because they’re not winning,” he told CBS three months ago. And now Trump says he will go to these generals and have them devise a plan to defeat ISIS:
“We are going to convey my top generals and give them a simple instruction,” Trump told the crowd in Greenville, N.C., on Tuesday. “They will have 30 days to submit to the Oval Office a plan for soundly and quickly defeating ISIS.
So, first Trump claimed to have a secret plan to defeat ISIS. Then he said the generals knew less than he does. Now he will ask the people who know less about ISIS than Trump does to come up with the plan that has already existed for more than a year. If this sounds confusing to you, imagine how confused the enemy must be. It means Trump’s strategy is working.