Opinion: The Trump Doctrine: Endless War

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Constantindis in Spera, Afghanistan in 2009. (Public domain photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Otero.)

Last week, President Donald Trump (that’s never going to roll off the tongue, is it?) announced his new Afghanistan strategy, which is really just Obama’s old Afghanistan strategy adjusted for idiocy. Though Trump predictably left out specifics, the central tenets of his policy appear to be this:

  1. There will be no timetable for withdrawal. Troops will remain in Afghanistan as long as the Administration deems necessary.
  2. The United States will stop devoting resources to “nation building.”
  3. Rules of engagement will be loosened.

Here’s what all of that means: troops will be in harm’s way for an indeterminant amount of time, building up the Afghan security forces and stabilizing the country politically will no longer be a priority, and US forces will be held less accountable for how they treat combatants. If this doesn’t sound bad on its face, allow me to explain just how absurd it is.

The strategy repeatedly contradicts itself. Under this plan, troops will exit Afghanistan when conditions improve; but if Afghanistan doesn’t have a formidable security force, and if American actions toward the Afghan people continue to breed extremism, conditions will not ever improve. This strategy is just a permanent police occupation of Afghanistan with absolutely no clear objective.

If reports are to be believed, the planned troop surge will be around 4,000 soldiers. For context, President Obama’s surge in 2009 included 30,000 troops, and it did virtually nothing to improve conditions on the ground. Why Trump and his team believe that a fraction of that number will make a substantive difference now, while working within a far narrower mission, is puzzling.

The thing about Afghanistan is that there is never going to be a defining moment of victory — and that’s because there isn’t a realistic end goal.

The Taliban militarily is a guerilla force, not a traditional one, so it can’t be destroyed in the way Americans have come to expect. To complicate things, the Taliban isn’t terribly unpopular in the country politically either. Trump and the conservative national security establishment claim that time-conditioned exits just encourage the Taliban to wait us out, but the Taliban aren’t just some ragtag group of extremists that will pick up and go if they feel defeated; they live in Afghanistan. Before the war began, they were the government.

All of this is to say nothing of the fact that this policy is a complete reversal for President Trump, who spoke infrequently about Afghanistan but has been historically against continued American involvement, claiming that the trillions of dollars spent there would be more properly expended “rebuilding America.”

Now, just over seven months into his presidency, he is devoting more money and resources to the conflict, and still hasn’t come up with an infrastructure plan. Beat that with a stick.

Here’s the bottom line: President Trump is not the kind of leader who can take defeat in stride, but the war has already been lost. Thousands of American men and women have died in a country we never should have been in, chasing enemies that never posed an existential threat to the United States, for 16 years. Our presence has been the opposite of helpful, and our continued presence will just make things worse. President Trump ought to have the courage to declare defeat, pack up, and head home. History would look at him kindly for doing so.

Comments are closed.