Opinion: Trump takes his shot at ending the war in Afghanistan

President Donald Trump speaks at Fort Myer in Arlington, Va., on Monday, during a Presidential Address to the Nation about a strategy he believes will best position the U.S. to eventually declare victory in Afghanistan. (AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster)

The red-headed stepchild of American wars, the one we largely ignore while making more of a fuss over other foreign matters, got what has become its habitual dose of early-administration attention Monday night. That the war in Afghanistan has been going on long enough for me to write that — it’s wrapping up its 16th year and is now under its third commander-in-chief, easily our longest war — should be evidence enough that the prior doses of attention were very far from sufficient. The question now is whether the results will change under President Trump.

The strategy, and much of the rhetoric, did change. President Obama had given the war an expiration date, an announced departure that I and many others criticized because it told our enemies they simply needed to hold on until that date had passed and our troops had left. That strategy, such as it was, was unburdened by any sense of victory or purpose. (It also didn’t stick, even during Obama’s tenure.) We may as well have brought all our soldiers home immediately as leave them there to fight an unwanted battle toward uncertain goals.

But we didn’t bring them home, and now Trump is saying they won’t leave until certain conditions are met. What those conditions are, he did not say. He did indicate he will not have unlimited patience for meeting them, and that seeing “determination and progress” from the Afghan government would be crucial to America’s continued commitment to their country. He also very plainly said our commitment will not include building up their country: “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”

Trump might not have outlined his conditions for ending the war, but his end-goal sounded clear enough: “strategically-applied force aims to create the conditions for a political process to achieve a lasting peace.” The president wants to amp up the firepower — Fox News cited a Pentagon statistic that airstrikes in Afghanistan nearly tripled in the first seven months of the year vs. the same time period last year: 1,984 vs. 705 — and force the Taliban and others to sue for peace rather than wait us out. Although Trump spoke of dealing terrorists “a lasting defeat,” he also allowed that “perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban.”

If I were guessing, he is counting on a reinvigorated war effort, unhindered by so many restrictions from Washington, to demoralize the Taliban sooner than later and bring them to the negotiating table. Whether that’s realistic is unclear. Let’s pray it is.

One thing worth noting is that Trump cast all this as an unwanted obligation, but one he couldn’t see fit to cast off:

“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.”

And:

“When I became president, I was given a bad and very complex hand, but I fully knew what I was getting into. Big and intricate problems. But one way or another, these problems will be solved. I am a problem solver. And in the end, we will win. We must address the reality of the world as it exists right now, the threats we face, and the confronting of all of the problems of today, and extremely predictable consequences of a hasty withdrawal.”

Those portions of his speech seemed to be his attempt to square this new strategy with his campaign rhetoric about costly overseas adventures (even if he was somewhat less sanguine as a candidate about cutting and running from Afghanistan specifically … after years of thinking, or at least tweeting, otherwise). To the extent he’s dealing with the facts as he finds them and acting on the advice of his top military advisers about the consequences of staying vs. leaving, that’s good. But the test will come during the low moments under this strategy — and there will be low moments, no matter how sound the strategy — and whether he is tempted to change under pressure. His chosen course of action ultimately may prove to be the right one, but it seems unlikely to be terribly popular with Trump’s base or with Americans more broadly. He surely knows that going in. But as he acknowledged, it’s different “when you are president of the United States” and American soldiers are dying due to decisions you’ve made. An escalation that brings about victory is one thing. An escalation that simply marks another chapter in an interminable war is quite another.

Reader Comments 0

178 comments
hasako
hasako


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DeepStateDawg
DeepStateDawg

So what's the difference between "take our country back" and "make America great again". 


Can you do both at the same time? 


If it's taken back, does that make it great by default? Or can you make it great without taking it back? 


Who has it now? When was it taken? 


Did someone leave a door unlocked or the alarm off? Were the keys in it, or did it get hot-wired? 


Where are the people who have it? Are they just taking it for a joyride, or are they really serious about keeping it? 


So many unanswered questions. 

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

"a lasting defeat"

Is that why they are encouraging dialogue with the Taliban?

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@RoadScholar


Pretty much. This can set a terrible precedent. Has there ever been a treaty/agreement with a terrorist organization? Aren't we suppose to not negotiate with terrorist?

breckenridge
breckenridge

I've never been as proud of ANY president as I was of Trump giving that speech last night.


bwwwwwhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaa

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

Well that Trump speech yesterday was something. Now that was vintage Trump in all his glory.


It had it all. Fake media with their fake news and their fake people. Large crowds vs. little crowds. Bashing opponents not mention by name. Pardoning an old man who enforce the law by breaking it. Ripping up NAFTA for the billionth time. Reviving an tragic event that we all have said he shouldn't be talking about. And small mention of the new strategy in Afghanistan because it he had little todo with him. Oh yeah and he is a victim in all this.


You know. It's all there. Plain as day.

DeepStateDawg
DeepStateDawg

@McGarnagle Poor, pitiful Trump. It's not his fault. The country was broken when he got it. 


If only we had elected him in 1958 and just made him King then. 

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@bu22

All-time low. Uh huh.

BTW, if you're not too lazy to read the article that's linked within the Moonie Times piece, you'd know that there's an update to it that reveals it actually wasn't any big deal.

Except, well, right wing poutrage has to find an outlet somewhere, particularly after you got clobbered over the last week and a half over your buddies' KKK/Nazi rally.


bu22
bu22

@Visual_Cortex @bu22  People given assignments because of their name?  And Lee is a common Asian name.  So a lot of Asians will be banned from working in Southern states?  Sounds like an easy lawsuit to me.  It really is a very big deal in the long run.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@bu22 

ESPN has been in the far-left tank for a long time. Their sports reporting staff prioritizes politics and political correctness more than they do sports.

rohevov
rohevov

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Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Our Marines teach young American men and women to fight in 14 weeks.  We've been teaching Afghani men 16 years.  At what point will they step up?  As someone who has watched friends enable their children to stay teens forever by providing and providing, I  say the Afghanis need to step up.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Wascatlady 

You have no idea what the Marine Corps teaches much less any idea what the Taliban teaches and what they don't know how to teach.

Starik
Starik

Trump is listening to Generals. For them they have to win in any effort or they'll threaten their military career. They'll never admit that their best efforts failed. 

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Starik

Obama allowed low level staffers to call generals in the field with questions and to relay directions.

Three, that would be three Sec of Defense resigned out of Obama's administration because of it.

Several outstanding generals were forced out because of Obama's interference and disagreement.

So to criticize the military when they have not in the past 8 years been given freedom to accomplish their mission is blind partisanship.

Starik
Starik

@JohnnyReb @Starik  Neither side is willing to reinstate the draft, which is necessary to restoring a really strong military. What's your history with the draft, Johnny? 

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Starik 

No the generals haven't failed Obama, failed by failing the generals. At least Trump is showing no evidence of repeating that failure.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Starik @SGTGrit 

Yes, but General Lewis Walt had the better plan. Westmoreland, outranked him and the Marines carried the long war of attrition in Northern South Vietnam.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Starik @JohnnyReb

I served 4 years in the USAF during Vietnam with my service in Thailand maintaining and launching B-52's and KC-135 tankers.

I have not heard the services complain of lack of manpower in their degraded state.

Starik
Starik

@JohnnyReb @Starik  The Army is too small. Good recruits are hard to find - see the incidents in the Navy in the Pacific and the Persian Gulf. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Only question now ?


When is the Mission Accomplished moment for Trump ?



JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Hedley_Lammar

Since you have a difficult time with all but the Dim talking points, we'll let you know.

Just relax and enjoy.

MiltonD
MiltonD

I hate to say it but I agree with Bookman on this subject.  There is not a definition of winning when it comes to Afghanistan, whatever we do there is just a waste of time, money and human life. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@DerekGator


Trump was pretty adamant of putting america first. Although he did say he was going to listen to the generals on the ground.


I am skeptical this will work but have this "won't know unless we try" feeling.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@DerekGator

And you really want to agree with Bookman in public, do you?

Bookman has bordered on clinical hysteria ever since Trump won.

He thinks because he followed his dad around in the Air Force he knows something about the military more than the location of the PX.

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

Sixteen years and $ billions rat holed in this quagmire, not to mention the lost American and allies' lives, maybe it's time to call it the Forever War (also the title of a pretty good sci-fi novel btw).

Hopefully some future US president will have the guts to acknowledge that Afghanistan is a lost cause, similar to what RMN did with the Vietnam disaster.


Starik
Starik

@stogiefogey  Afghanistan is a civil war. Vietnam was a civil war. We lost Vietnam, despite having troop strengths around 650,000. Now the Army is smaller than it was in 1940, so we can't occupy Afghanistan or impose the government we want. 

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@stogiefogey 

The Vietnam war was lost back here in the USA. The withdrawal, however, didn't have the ramifications that a complete withdrawal would have in Afghanistan. In Vietnam it meant that over 58,000 gave their lives in vain but there was no enemy that would represent a threat to our national security in the aftermath. Afghanistan is much different in that respect because we're facing an enemy that wants to change our way of life and we can't allow them to own a nation as a base to help facilitate their objective. 

Starik
Starik

@SGTGrit @stogiefogey  The Taliban just want to run their country the way they did before Bush. They could care less about our way of life. 

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Starik @bu22 @SGTGrit @stogiefogey

You seem to have a lot of insight into the Taliban way of thinking and their motives. How may ask did you gain such knowledge of the Taliban?