Monday night I settled in front of the television just before 9pm to hear President Trump address the nation from Ft. Myer in Arlington, Virginia about his plans for handling the nearly 16 year-old conflict in Afghanistan. (Early in his speech he referred to it as a 17 year-old war. He must have been using Paul Ryan arithmetic. 17-1=16 where I went to school; I’m giving him the rounding errors.) In my mind it was worse than a 25 minute nothingburger; the tiny bit of substance that it contained was mind bogglingly dangerous. Let’s explore.
Trump was supposedly announcing a new strategy for Afghanistan and the region that will lead to victory. Basically he announced that he wasn’t going to announce anything in the future.
One of his “keys to victory” was to base decisions on achievements not timelines. Since the UK, Russia and for almost sixteen years the United States have met with abject failure in Afghanistan I guess that means my grandchildren’s grandchildren’s generation will be in uniform in the region.
Trump told us (as if it were some personal discovery of his genius) that Pakistan is part of the problem in the region. We have known that for years. In 2011 when Trump was contemplating who to fire on a television reality show President Obama was launching the raid that resulted in Osama bin Laden’s death in Pakistan without prior notification of the Pakistani government. What the knowledgeable among us have known for decades is that Pakistan is among the countries in the region where the federal government doesn’t control large portions of the territory within its borders. While getting tough with Pakistan sounds like good policy, the practicality of successfully executing that policy is another matter. Campaigning is theory; governing involves reality.
Part of Trump’s solution is greater involvement from India. That would include India pressuring Pakistan into “behaving”. Pakistan and India are both nuclear powers. They are also arch rivals. What could possibly go wrong here?
One of the very few issues I broke with President Obama on was Afghanistan. I think he should have simply pulled out. Neither Trump nor Obama created the problem; George W. Bush did. Bush should have never put ground troops in Afghanistan in the first place. That is what happens when you have a dim witted President who puts politics and ego ahead of studying history. This mess is not of Trump’s making but if Monday night’s speech is any indication he is incapable and/or unwilling to do anything meaningful to clean it up either.
Trump is operating under the popular theory that we can either fight the terrorists “over there” or fight them here. He is equating a withdrawal with creating a vacuum which the terrorists would immediately occupy providing them with a safe haven from which to operate. Here is a reality check Mr. President: The terrorists already control large portions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, their territory is increasing in size and they operate with relative impunity within it. Osama bin Laden lived in a large compound in Afghanistan in the shadows of the country’s military academy for years before Obama ordered the raid that killed him.
The speech was atypical for Trump. He took a somewhat justifiable (out of inherited frustration if nothing else) shot at both Bush and Obama but he didn’t make either a central or recurring theme. What I liked best about the speech was that he refrained from doing an infomercial for all his “achievements” in office and since it was before an in uniform, military crowd there were no call and response sessions.
Trump and I are of the same generation and have very similar educations. Afghanistan is a simple cost/benefit decision. The cost of remaining in Afghanistan for centuries (and that is the time an effective occupation would entail) far exceeds the benefit we would derive.
The gist of Trump’s new policy is to fight terrorism with malarkey. What we’ve done in Afghanistan to date hasn’t worked and I seriously doubt this new approach will either. In fact, it may well make a bad situation much worse.
Now I can delete my recording of the speech; it was hardly worth watching once!
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