President Trump delivered a speech on Monday night, declaring the United States’ intention to not only continue the Afghanistan War, but to get rid of any timetables for exit.
The Afghanistan war is already the longest in American history, and now the president is changing entire exit strategy as he states in his speech, leaving the country has no date, but victory conditions:
As a result of our comprehensive review, American strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia will change dramatically in the following ways: A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions. I’ve said it many times, how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin or end military options.
We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.
This small quote from the speech speaks volumes. Trump is saying that along with not providing troop numbers or strategy to “America’s enemies”, Americans themselves will not receive any information on the plan for the war their children will fight. Said differently, “trust us”. I believe that he has no plan or strategy for victory, as there is no path to victory or even a definition for it.
Going back to the beginning of the speech, Trump talks about the American Republic and “coming together” as a country, as if he is still compensating for his comments after Charlottesville. He used the troops as an example of a team that comes together regardless of race and creed to defeat a common enemy blah blah blah:
American patriots from every generation have given their last breath on the battlefield – for our nation and for our freedom. Through their lives, and though their lives were cut short, in their deeds they achieved total immortality. By following the heroic example of those who fought to preserve our republic, we can find the inspiration our country needs to unify, to heal and to remain one nation under God. The men and women of our military operate as one team, with one shared mission and one shared sense of purpose.
They transcend every line of race, ethnicity, creed and color to serve together and sacrifice together in absolutely perfect cohesion. That is because all service members are brothers and sisters. They are all part of the same family. It’s called the American family. They take the same oath, fight for the same flag and live according to the same law.
They are bound together by common purpose, mutual trust and selfless devotion to our nation and to each other. The soldier understands what we as a nation too often forget, that a wound inflicted upon on a single member of our community is a wound inflicted upon us all. When one part of America hurts, we all hurt.
From there he does admit that the country is “weary of war” and that the sacrifice of blood has been great. He mentions that the war is the longest in the country’s history (17 years), and that the past strategy of “nation-building” was a fool’s errand. These comments were nice to see from a sitting president. If there is any silver-lining to be found here, it’s that maybe Trump is being more influenced by his nationalist generals than Neocon think-tanks. Of course, then he begins backpedaling:
My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts. But all my life, I have heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. In other words, when you are president of the United States. So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle. After many meetings over many months, we held our final meeting last Friday at Camp David with my cabinet and generals to complete our strategy.
Any talk that Donald Trump “studied” anything “in great detail” is a complete joke. It was clear to anyone watching that the ouster of Steve Bannon from the White House (while it seemed that him and the president were still on the same side) showed that Trump was now completely surrounded and controlled by Washington insiders and the military. The meeting at Camp David was a signal to any non-interventionist watching that any idea of Trump reining in the empire had been lost. This speech is evidence of that.
Trump then states he arrived “three fundamental conclusion about America’s core interests in Afghanistan”.
Here Trump begins to sound like John McCain in the 2008 debates with his faux support for the troops that say “let us win” when he talks to them. Of course this is Trump just going to bat for his generals and Pentagon Inc. If only Obama had “given them the tools” to win the war, we would have rapped this up a long time ago.
Trump continues his mimicking, most likely getting this next conclusion from watching John Bolton on FOX News. He points to Obama’s exit of Iraq as “creating a vacuum” for Al Qeada, showing that he lacks any idea of nuance or grasp on the idea of “blowback”. Like the John Boltons of the world, if we only did more, killed more, “delivered Democracy” harder, Iraq would have gotten past the deep sectarian division the US invasion of 2003 helped escalate to a whole new horrific level.
The third strategy pillar opens up the war to the entire region. The president points to the Pakistan and its harboring of terrorists. He plays up the idea that we must double our efforts in “fighting terrorism” and focus our energy on this goal. To me, this just seems like shifting the idea of “nation building” to just an open-ended, mercenary-type war on anything the US (and its influential allies) deem “terrorism”. I don’t mean we will be using Blackwater to carry these missions out, but that the United States military is stripping off any cloak of “defense” and just offering its services to the highest bidder. He cites his speech in Saudi Arabia an example of this new found determination to “fight the terrorists”.
The speech continues from there and get even more vague. Trump talks about how the United States is not in the business of “nation building” and that “it is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future, to govern their society, and to achieve an everlasting peace.” At the same time, the United States will set the conditions for its exit. Really giving the Afghans no say in the direction of their nation.
He discusses the relationship between Pakistan and India, and how their nuclear capabilities makes the situation complex. He seems to be leaning the United States more towards the side of India, which is nothing new for US policy:
Another critical part of the South Asia strategy for America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India, the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the United States. We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development. We are committed to pursuing our shared objectives for peace and security in South Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region.
The speech then takes a most disgusting turn, when Trump again brings up the idea of giving the military the “tools it needs” and how he “already lifted restrictions the previous administration placed on our war fighters that prevented the secretary of defense and our commanders in the field from fully and swiftly waging battle against the enemy.” He cites the liberation of Mosul, which is reprehensible considering the lose of civilian life by airstrikes and the tactics used by the Iraq Government Army.
Trump concludes by warning the Afghan government that our support is “not a blank check”. That in his warped mind, occupation of the country should not affect the corrupt government of Afghanistan from providing “real reforms” that the “American people expect”. What an ass. His view of America as still the “beacon on the hill” shines through here. Only the head of sick nationalists is a country that we have occupied for almost two decades supposed to say “thank you” and change itself to fit our view of it. Trump’s lack of knowledge gives him the idea that Afghanistan is the same type of “ally” as Europe or Saudi Arabia. You can feel the generals channeling through Trump’s shallow words.
Trump has already received backlash from his base because of this speech. Middle America is tired of sending their kids (most of which weren’t alive when the conflict began) to die to fight a war without end or with no real American interests.
I only hope that the reaction to this policy pushes the conversation away from the media hyped Civil War and “Russia Did It” narrative. But I fear that this is exactly what the Deep State and establishment wanted Trump to do. They have brought him to heel, and while they may not outwardly support him and his goofy antics, as long as the tows the company line, the attacks will subside.
The members of conservative side of America who go full in on hating this policy will come out on top. Rand Paul has already penned his disagreement, even furthering his clout among the Republican base.
Separately, if you are looking for a book to read on the history of the Afghan War, and why it is such sinkhole or “fool’s errand”, I will again point you to the new book by Antiwar.com/Libertarian Institute’s Scott Horton: Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan.