Trump's Hard Choices in Afghanistan

America has been trying to have it both ways for too long.


Teprzem /

It's generally foolish to look for clear thought and sincere intent in anything Donald Trump says. But a glimmer of hope emerged in his Monday comments on America's recent military ventures. "We have to start winning wars again," he declared. "We've either got to win or don't fight it at all."

If he means it, he should make a firm decision about Afghanistan, where we have no prospect of winning and no appetite for what it would take even to gain the upper hand. In truth, we have already lost that war. It has gone on for more than 15 years, making it the longest conflict in our history. And we are further from victory today than when we arrived.

U.S. military officials, reports Reuters, acknowledge that the Kabul government controls only 60 percent of the nation's territory. The Taliban, which we invaded the country to remove, control some 15 percent, with the remainder contested. The Islamic State and al-Qaida are also in the fight.

The stalemate is more or less a permanent fact of life. George W. Bush turned his attention away from Afghanistan once he decided to invade Iraq, and his administration was content to stave off disaster. Barack Obama mounted a surge, boosting the number of U.S. troops from about 30,000 to about 100,000 in his first two years, but by the time he left office, he had drawn them down to 8,400.

Both presidents did essentially the same thing, refusing to escalate enough to achieve a lasting victory—and refusing to leave. Their approach was to fight but not to win.

The question for Trump is whether to accept that reality and get out or deny it and stay. Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, recently told a Senate committee that he needs "a few thousand" additional troops. But such a modest boost would amount to a holding action, at best.

"That a few thousand troops could somehow reverse the present situation and ensure progress toward victory is obviously a fantasy of the first order," wrote retired Air Force Lt. Col. William J. Astore in The American Conservative. A more ambitious escalation, however, would exceed what the vast majority of Americans would support.

What we've done is plenty. Rajan Menon, a scholar at The City College of New York and Columbia University, notes that even adjusting for inflation, we have spent more on economic aid alone than we spent after World War II on the Marshall Plan, which covered 16 countries.

The total bill for the war, including future costs for medical care for wounded veterans, is estimated at upward of $4 trillion. In his Tuesday address to Congress, Trump lamented that for the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, "we could have rebuilt our country—twice."

Our presence and money should give our partners in Kabul an overwhelming advantage over the enemy. But as Menon wrote in The National Interest, we have yet to see "anything resembling an effective government with national reach and local purchase. Moreover, it has become less cohesive and more fractious."

Contrast that with the performance of Taliban forces—which have been on the receiving end of thousands of American bombs and bullets yet have not only survived but gained ground.

Their fighting spirit and resilience, despite comparatively meager resources, underline the central importance of motivation in war. The enemy has it. Our Afghan allies don't—and neither do we.

Most Americans, after all, pay no attention to this war and haven't for years. It would be surprising if 1 in 50 could name the current president of Afghanistan. Most probably couldn't locate the country on a map.

The United States invaded in 2001 for a simple, specific purpose: to remove the Taliban regime and smash al-Qaida. After that task was done, the public lost interest. In the absence of broadly felt sacrifices in blood or treasure, Afghanistan was about as relevant to most of our lives as Bolivia. The war has been forgotten, and presidents have preferred that it remain that way.

If Trump is serious about his vow to pursue victory or nothing, though, he can't forget Afghanistan. At this stage, he could withdraw and put the blame for the failure on his predecessors. Or he could do what Bush and Obama did: string things out and leave the problem to someone else.

© Copyright 2017 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Unless there is something to be gained, Trump will likely reduce our presence, or just GTFO entirely. Assuming he sees staying as a shitty investment.

    1. What would be the good investment?

      These dipshit politicians think they can just send in some troops and “Mission Accomplished”, then their approval ratings go up.

      Afghanistan is so many good lessons rolled up into one that will never be learned. All I can hope for is that Trump pulls our troops back from most locales around the World including Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. It would make it harder and more deliberate for future politicians to get Americans killed without a realistic plan to win some future conflict.

      1. A “good investment”, to a politician, means spending other people’s money in ways that either send it to the pockets of themselves, friends, family, or cronies; or enhances their political career.

        Iron rule — you rely on any politician to advance their own perceived self interest, generally to your detriment, because they’re relying on force, not persuasion. They don’t have to seek mutual benefit.

      2. The truth is that no one give a fuck.

  2. That bastard better not pull out of Afghanistan.
    Doing so disrespects the deaths of the brave heros who died there for the idea that brave heros would continue to die in that wasteland forever.

    1. Ask the Brits about the costs of empire and the white man’s burden. Are we gonna let the Brits keep a stiffer upper lip than we are about wasting blood and treasure in foreign adventurism? Pulling out of Afghanistan is a sign of weakness, like admitting a measly few trillion dollars and a few thousand lives is enough to sting us. I say we start drafting little girls to go fight over there, just to show the world we treat warfare as a lark just for larfs.

      1. We’ll top the children’s crusade with a tranny crusade.

  3. There’s just no fucking way in hell Trump is pulling the troops out of Afghanistan. We know they have a hard on for Iran and these fucking degenerates would keep the Afghan adventure in bankruptcy and death going just keep the squeeze on Iran.

    1. I have a feeling that if Trump had his way, we’d pull out. He’s a lover not a fighter. But he has Steve “Clash of Civilizations” Bannon whispering in his ear, and add to that the nutty apocalyptic Christian right influence in his administration. Between the two they would probably love nothing more than to go to all out war with Syria or Iran or both. Would probably invade Mecca if it weren’t politically unfeasible.

      1. I have a feeling that if Trump had his way, we’d pull out. He’s a lover not a fighter. But . . .

        If only the Czar knew!

    2. Which is stupid thinking because we are fighting for iran’s interests in afghanistan,.. just like iraq.. US and Iran both support he same groups and hate the taliban.. it really is dumb.. we hate iran, but on ether side of iran, iraq and afghanistan, we fight with them.. almost side by side in the case of mosul with Quds and special forces ..

      1. Why let common sense get in the way of immanentizing the eschaton.

  4. Trump Has a Hard Choice in Afghanistan

    “Get out gradually; or get out now.”

  5. Wait. Chapman penned an article that wasn’t entirely based on raving Trump derangement?

    What happened!?!

    1. He heard Drumpf speak without sounding fully deranged at the SOTU.

      Therefore, presidential

  6. GTFO. STFO.

  7. We won already. Is there any Taliban leader today who was in any position of power when the Taliban aided and abetted Al Queda in 2001? No,those guys are all in hell with Allah. All the current assholes need to know is that if they aid and abet another terrorist group that attacks the U.S., then they will suffer the same fate their daddies did.

    1. ^THIS^

      Besides, we didn’t go to war there to remove the Taliban. We only had to remove the Taliban because they wouldn’t get out of the way.

    2. I agree.

      The only thing we can or should do is inform all interested parties that if and when large scale anti-American terrorism camps / training happens we will blow them all up. Probably with weapons that don’t even exist yet. We will not come and rebuild anything. We’re leaving now. Best of luck to you. Maybe help negotiate a deal but the corrupt Kabul regime can’t withstand anyone with some balls. So it is a fool’s errand.

      I don’t even see the value of the middle east aside from protecting Israel. And the Egyptians and Jordanians appear to be seeing the light insofar as you’re in it together vs the super fucked up countries.

    3. We kicked the Taliban’s ### and routed Al Quaeda in just two weeks with some cruise missiles, smart bombs, and bearded special forces riding horseback with the Northern Alliance. Should have been game over – go back to Diego Garcia, and come back and thump them if they popped up again. But no – we had to pour well in excess of $1 trillion to try and bring some nomads into the 21st century, and permanently base tens of thousands of troops there to give illiterate jihadists something to get pi**ed about, and send some of the best men and women who ever lived in this country to an early grave so we could build some schools, and give them wifi. And in case we didn’t endear ourselves to the Afghanis enough, we gave them Hamid Karzai.

  8. I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

    1. +1 neutron bomb. Or one Philly cheesesteak sandwich.

      1. Operation Pork Rind… just drop bags of them on Taliban areas and call them something else. That’ll teach ’em.

  9. “Both presidents did essentially the same thing, refusing to escalate enough to achieve a lasting victory?and refusing to leave. Their approach was to fight but not to win.”

    Sorry, Steve, you got it wrong, and you’re falling, or, rather, have fallen, right into the old George Wallace/Rambo trap that Trump set for you–that victory is simply a matter of will. In fact, no number of troops would have given us the win we wanted in Afghanistan, because, as in Iraq, we wanted, not simply to defeat the country’s military forces but to transform the nation into a stable, non-sectarian ally of the United States. For some reason, those Muslims over there just won’t listen to “reason”–to our version of “reason”, at least. Napoleon had the same problem with the Spanish, who were much happier being poverty-stricken Catholic fanatics rather than prosperous and “free”.

    1. +1 Rodrigo Duterte

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    2. Yes, yes! This is pretty much what I was going to say.

      Q: How many more troops would you need to put down before you could have victory?

      A: Enough to kill literally all the people. Then there would be “peace” (absence of conflict).

      Which is, of course stupid/evil to the extreme. There is no other hope for “victory” as the US government defines it. You cannot change people’s minds with bullets (apparently), all you can do is kill them.

      (NONE of what I say should be understood as supporting the idea of killing them all. We should just leave. We should have left 15+ years ago.)

      1. “You cannot change people’s minds with bullets …”

        Though you could always try bribing them with a bigger cut of heroin proceeds. Thinner diplomatic pouches for the likes of Hillary Clinton, I know, but worth a try.

      2. “You cannot change people’s minds with bullets…”

        Sure you can. Change them into a fine mist.

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  12. Afghanistan is a regressive gene that needs to be wiped from the face of the Earth.

  13. > Afghanistan was about as relevant to most of our lives as Bolivia

    So wrong, so wrong.

    Afghanistan – heroin
    Bolivia – cocaine

    Only speedballers have no strong preference for one of these countries over the other.

  14. Trump could always read the Afghani constitution to see what we are fighting for.…..s/1-28-The Constitution of Afghanistan-English.pdf

  15. “…Afghanistan, where we have no prospect of winning…”

    Well, ‘we’ actually have already won in that Osama bin Laden is dead. He was probably dead in 2001 but he is most certainly dead now. Other than getting bin Laden, and punishing Afghanistan for harboring him, what would constitute victory? Certainly, Afghanistan is not going to be westernized any time soon. Victory could have been declared years ago when bin Laden was killed in Pakistan and buried at sea (sarc).

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