Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Imagine My Surprise: Trump Escalates in Afghanistan

President Donald Trump spoke about the US presence in Afghanistan, to the nation Monday night from the US Army Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, in Arlington, Virginia.

The audience in the Hall appeared to be handpicked, like tulips, with many young fresh faces who certainly had not yet seen combat. There were none in the audience that had experienced combat and lost their legs, arms or balls. No one was in a wheel chair and no one was breathing through a tube. There were no faces mangled by PTSD.

There was nothing in the Hall to indicate what President Trump's new escalation might do to some of the fresh faces.

Trump said his “original instinct was to pull out, ”of Afghanistan that he did not want to nation build. He said, however, that he determined that such an approach could create a vacuum that terrorists including al-Qaida and the Islamic State could “instantly fill.”

Imagine my surprise.

In July 2016 during the presidential race, I wrote with reference to the Middle East:
Trump is not into nation building but he is into fighting "bad guys." He is a war hawk for non-neocon reasons. He is making that point as clear as day.
Trump's speech reflected his lack of deep perspective and understanding. At one point he said:
 [T]he consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists. A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11.
But he showed no understanding that the initial recruitment of terrorists was because of US presence in the Middle East in the first place. He displayed no understanding that ISIS emerged because of a power vacuum in and around Iraq after the invasion of Iraq by US forces.

The depth of his naivete was revealed  when he said this new escalation would "working alongside our allies... break the...will [of the terrorists and] dry up their recruitment." But it is precisely this type of escalation that will make terrorist recruitment easier.

Trump said:
We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities.Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on.
This means that there is no way to judge what kind of escalation the President has agreed to other than by leaks. Though his bellicose words toward Pakistan are particularly troubling:
The next pillar of our new strategy is to change the approach in how to deal with Pakistan. We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.

Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists. In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner. Our militaries have worked together against common enemies. The Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism. We recognize those contributions and those sacrifices, but Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change. And that will change immediately.
The most aggressive interpretation of what the President meant here is that he may escalate on the Pakistan side of the border. Or perhaps he means that he expects Pakistan must somehow prevent the Taliban from using the border region as a sanctuary.

The most direct indication that the President is going to escalate direct combat by US forces, that will result in messing up some of those fresh faces that were in the audience, came when he said:
[W]e will also expand authority for American armed forces to target the terrorist and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan.
These killers need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms. 
But again he provided little in terms of details. He left some wiggle room:
Another fundamental pillar of our new strategy is the integration of all instruments of American power: diplomatic, economic, and military, toward a successful outcome. Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban and Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen. America will continue its support for the Afghan government and the Afghan military as they confront the Taliban in the field.
But the bottom line is that US troops are not coming home from Afghanistan that it appears some type of escalation will occur and that Trump will not escalate for nation building reasons but for other reasons.

The Deep State can live with this.

But what do the former (?) libertarian supporters of Trump say?

Can we finally get aggressive in attacking his policies or must we still stay silent because he is good on the transgender bathroom issue?



  1. It's pretty cleat that we are witnessing the logic of declining empire. No one can even figure out what "winning" in Afghanistan would look like. All Trump can hope for is to "not lose" and continue the stalemate. For now, the war racketeers profits are safe while the poverty draft folks' lives are not. All I can say it that the coincidental timing of the Mnuchin/Marie Antoinette Fort Knox gold "appraisal" visit does add a bit of psychedelia to the mix.

  2. "A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11."

    Using this logic, the US cannot withdraw from any, and must occupy every, part of the world, forever. Hence the 800 bases and 250K troops outside of the US (apparently Russia has nine external bases, and the Chinese one).

    1. Also, given that the initial invasion occurred 16 years ago, it seems tough to categorize a withdrawal at this point as "hasty."

  3. Dear Murray,

    Would you care to make a prediction regarding the outcome?