“War Without End?”
Will Afghanistan become Korea or Vietnam?
In conversation with a very bright guy this morning he noted that he thought Trump’s speech Monday night was “pretty good” (or something like that). When pressed about “why” that might be, it boiled down to the fact that the President had not pledged allegiance to Neo-Nazis or said anything about grabbing pussies. We then talked about how low the bar is set and how easily folks will “normalize” Trump if he just doesn’t go off the rails (even though we know he’s thinking those things). What struck me about the speech was:
My original instinct was to pull out. And historically, I like following my instincts. 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. (Trump, Monday night)
We know that Trump has been railing about getting out of Afghanistan since at least 2010 (you can check the Tweets). But now, after he “studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle" he’s decided to go against his “instincts.” First of all, does anyone believe this man “studied . . . in great detail and from every conceivable angle?” He was told by McMaster and Mattis and Kelly (Marine Corps Generals all !) what he had to do --- period.
Next, we were told:
I arrived at three fundamental conclusions about America’s core interests in Afghanistan.
What are we to conclude from that list?
So, these three points told us absolutely nothing. What else did we learn from Monday night’s address? How about this nugget:
A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions. 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 have 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. Retribution will be fast and powerful, as we lift restrictions and expand authorities in the field.
If you carefully examine that statement I would hope a number of red flags would immediately pop up. While recognizing Trump’s obsession with “not tipping his hand” tactic, what he has laid out as strategy and policy has potential not only for endless war but also for things like the My Lai massacre --- where “war fighters” will engage in “fast and powerful” retribution (Please note that word, as I’m sure Trump’s not clear as to its definition). There is nothing proposed here, by the way, that would at all discourage our enemies from waiting us out. What, because they don’t know how many troops we’re sending or what we might (secretly) consider as our timetable --- that will fool them? Basically Trump pulled a Pontius Pilate here, washing his hands of responsibility and setting up his generals for the blame when all this crashes and burns.
Finally, what about this quote:
It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and to peace.
I’m not sure but it seems our President is implying that the nation of Pakistan is uncivilized, disorderly, and war-torn --- or am I reading that statement incorrectly? While most of the President’s address Monday night had the clear stamp of some speechwriter and not Trump’s own hand (we’ll get a good glimpse of his words, tone, and style tonight in Arizona) --- the phrase about Pakistan demonstrating a “commitment to civilization” seems very Bannon-esque (maybe Stephen Miller?). The horrible condescension wrapped in that phrasing, not to mention the outright insult to a sovereign nation, is a Trump trademark now, isn’t it?
Overall, then, Monday night’s address about Afghanistan (and South Asia) leaves us no more clear than we were Monday morning regarding the U.S. role, mission, and exit strategy there. Are we proceeding ahead as we did in Vietnam or are we eventually looking for some kind of “armistice,” like Korea? Since Trump, like Obama and W. before him, does not want to get tagged the “loser” of the Afghanistan War, it appears we will be there for an indefinite time completing an unclear mission, continuing to sacrifice young lives because of the foibles of old generals and clueless Presidents.