Trump Opens Door For Afghanistan Peace, But Says U.S. Sticking Around

Says he's going against his first instinct, but that that's what presidents do.


White House

The war in Afghanistan will continue until further notice, President Donald Trump made clear Monday night, but he left the door open for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

"Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban and Afghanistan," President Trump said in a nationally-televised address in Fort Myer, Va., "but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen."

Trump tried to articulate the why of the Afghanistan war, which boiled down to: "We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists."

"We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities," he said. "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."

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson buttressed what is a reversal in a long-held position by Trump with a statement after the president's address committing to oppose the Taliban in the country.

"We are making clear to the Taliban that they will not win on the battlefield," Tillerson said. "The Taliban has a path to peace and political legitimacy through a negotiated political settlement to end the war."

"We stand ready to support peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban without preconditions," Tillerson continued. "We look to the international community, particularly Afghanistan's neighbors, to join us in supporting an Afghan peace process."

Trump admitted his decision to continue the U.S. war in Afghanistan went against his prior judgment on the issue.

"My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts," Trump said. "But all my life, I have heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office… So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle."

It wasn't just an instinct—Trump spent years calling the war in Afghanistan a costly mistake.

Trump laid out a five-pillared "strategy," including "conditions-based" decision-making and a blackout on troop levels and activities, as well as a potential political solution, or "the integration of all instruments of American power, diplomatic, economic, and military, toward a succesful outcome."

Trump threated to cut off military aid to Pakistan and take other measures if it didn't end its support for terror groups operating in Afghanistan. Trump also called on India to help with economic assistance and development there.

Trump stressed ending "micromanagement from Washington, D.C.," and loosening the rules of engagement in an unspecified way. Trump has been a fan of torture, but also said he was deferring to Defense Secretary James Mattis, who opposed torture, on lifting that particular ban.

In his address tonight, Trump did not offer to go to Congress to seek a new authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) neither for Afghanistan nor for the broader battle against ISIS (which also operates in Afghanistan).

The 2001 AUMF has been used by three consecutive administrations to justify military operations across the Muslim world, from Nigeria to the Philippines, even in Libya, after a U.S.-backed intervention toppled the Qaddafi regime and opened the country to terror groups like ISIS.

Fitting the war on terror where, how, and wherefore it's being fought in 2017 into the 2001 AUMF is an impossible task. Successive administrations have gotten away with using it as blanket cover for counterterrorism operations around the world largely because of Congress' unwillingness or inability to assert its constitutional role and de-authorize or de-fund such excursions.

Even the lightest interrogation of the post-9/11 AUMF and its relationship to the present wars reveals how disconnected the military authorization is from current military activities. The terrorist safe havens Trump says have emerged in recent years in Afghanistan are not related to September 11 but to the U.S. war launched in response, just as the emergence of ISIS is related not to September 11 but to the U.S. war in Iraq.

The U.S. war on terror has suffered from serious mission creep and an aggressive lack of direction, with the U.S. meandering from one conflict to the next and back again. Only an open debate in Congress over a new AUMF can offer any hope to untangle these problems.

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  1. I don’t know if the critique on going back to congress for authorization on Afghanistan is fair. The original authorization was explicitly for Afghanistan, so it isn’t some escalation beyond the original mandate, nor is it venturing into new territory. Congress didn’t authorize a specific man to lead a battle, they authorized the United States to go to war. And I don’t know exactly how you mark a war as being over if the other side never capitulates.

    1. Sometimes you see two kids fighting and one knocks the other to the ground and then walks away. Sometimes the kid on the ground taunts the guy walking away ‘oh yeah, you’re scared huh, go ahead and run.’ Then the first kid comes back and kicks the shit out of the other kid again and walks away. Then he’s taunted a second time. So he comes back and kicks the shit out of the other kid again only to be taunted yet again.

      We’ve demonstrated our superiority, they’ve demonstrated their unwillingness to give up – twice now (once with a decade of fighting the USSR and now with a decade-and-a-half against us) – so unless you’re advocating genocide . . .

      Sometimes you just have to wash your hands of the situation.

      1. Which is why they’ve been able to use it for everything from Afghanistan to no-knock raids on the Muncie Indiana “Brave Lil’ Tykes” preschool. (Jackasses were serving crackers with peanut butter! Do you know ho serious peanut allergies are? Do you? Do you!?)

    2. If you want a picture of the future, imagine an American boot stamping on an Afghani face – forever.

      “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.”
      – George Orwell, 1984

    1. Don’t worry too much about it. That was a bullshit line.

  2. “My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts,” Trump said. “But all my life, I have heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office? So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle.”

    Damn, that’s an amazing display of humility coming from Trump, hinting that he perhaps didn’t already know everything there was to know about Afghanistan and he actually had to study the situation for a little bit to know everything there was to know.

    1. Its also a massive humble-brag where he says he’s so smart that he can go into this situation blind and after a year, while distracted by other responsibilities, learn about Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle.

      1. It probably reveals how they sold him on their plan. They’ve probably learned their audience and know that appeals to vanity work.

        1. The media will never cover what went down, so there’s that.

          Trump has not increased troops levels in Afghanistan since his inauguration and has not announced Afghanistan returning to a massive war zone, so there seems to be a counter to US general’s strategy of wasting US military capability on an unwinnable war in Afghanistan.

    2. Obama never heard of humility.

  3. There can be no negotiated settlement with ISIS, ISIL, Taliban, Muslim fundamentalists, Muslim terrorists, etc.

    Staying in Afghanistan is a mistake and has not worked to end hostilities with stateless terrorists in 16 years.

  4. I don’t remember the Taliban being terrorists in the sense that they’re plotting attacks outside the theater of war in Afghanistan which is an important distinction for me. I bet if we kill indiscriminately enough during the Trump surge we may change that about the Taliban.

    1. Well, they were sort of contracting that bit out at the time. Remember, they had the 9/11 leaders as honored guests in their country and chose to defend them rather than give them up.

  5. Aggressive Lack of Direction was my nickname in college.

  6. “We stand ready to support peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban without preconditions,” Tillerson continued.

    We will negotiate with terrorists.

  7. Is there anyone who _didn’t_ expect Trump to betray the suckers who voted for him?

    1. Is there anyone who _didn’t_ expect Obama to betray the suckers who voted for him?

      1. Pay attention, folks. THIS is how you do a pointless non-sequitur.

        1. Pay attention, folks. THIS is how Citizen X #6 does a pointless non-sequitur.

    2. I totally expected it.

      Just like I expected Obama to betray the suckers that voted for him.

      Just like I expected Bush to betray the suckers that voted for him.

      Just like I expected Bill Clinton to betray the suckers that voted for him.

      Just like I expected Hillary to betray the suckers that voted for her. If she would have been elected.

      The best way to determine what a President will NOT do is to listen to what they tell you they will do on the campaign trail.

  8. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.

    1. The Gospel of Pete, the book of Who’s Next, chapter 9.

  9. Finally read a transcript of this. Conclusion: Lots of words, no substance, no new ideas, the Republic is being led by a self-important oaf.

  10. “My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts,”

    We have seen his offspring. Historically, he clearly does not pull out when he should.

    1. His hot daughters would seem to indicate otherwise.

  11. So it sounds like we’re sending more troops to baby sit. This war has went on long enough.

  12. More proof of his hypocrisy. He has officially joined the establishment!

    How is your two-party dictatorship working for you now America!

  13. Yeah, of course that worked out so well for GWB and Obama that Trump obviously has to do the same thing. Probably with the same result.

    Insanity may be defined as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Variously attributed to Sun Tsu, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein. Probably none of them actually said it, but it’s applicable anyway.

  14. I hate war like everyone but do we really want the extremists to grow stronger by pulling out? I am not expert but ISIS is attacking or their propaganda is causing others to attack innocent people more and more so what happens if they get stronger.

    1. ISIS and the Taliban

  15. Ed, this sounds like the “commentary” launched by Don Lemon on CNN right after Trump’s AZ speech last night..

    Were any of you around when Obama announced his troop drawdown and Exact Date when all the troops would be gone?

    Did any of you think that some of the most respected dead Generals would have been spinning in their graves at the stupidity of Obama’s announcement?!

    Everything I heard from Trump last night sounded (aside from some usual blather that all politicians utter) like honest and sensible military strategy.

    You NEVER tell the enemy (or idiots in press briefings) Exactly what you’re going to do in the combat theater. Never!

    So whyTF does Reason’s editors and writers suddenly have a problem with Trump’s announcements?
    He has said that we’re not going to go out and try to influence other governments unless they ask for help (or pay for it), unlike most of the direct and deliberate interference by so many prior presidents.

    And that’s just one item from the speech. C’mon, guys! Don’t sound like Lemon and dislike everything Trump says for whatever reason you’re dumping that litany on him! Be REASONable.


    MIC Military Industrial Complex
    KEY The key to understanding America’s uninterrupted wars
    M-O-U-S-E The taxpayers mulcted to feed MIC-KEY

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