Guest editorial: Afghanistan timeline lengthens again
After a long review of America’s disappointing military strategy in Afghanistan, President Trump announced a new plan that’s light on details and heavy on familiar messaging.
It’s a far cry from the big change many in the administration — and many Americans — had been pulling for. With a few shifts in rhetoric, Trump’s address unveiling the plan could have come from Hillary Clinton, or perhaps even Barack Obama.
It’s hard to trust Trump and his generals to lift us out of the current morass. Our nation’s leadership is so afraid of taking on more risk that it seems bent on bearing burdens with no proven track record and diminishing public support.
For some, Trump’s track record to date is proof enough that he’s unlikely to redeem our shopworn, add-more-troops approach to Afghanistan. But Trump himself knows what has come before has let us down time and again.
“I share the American people’s frustration,” he confessed. “I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money — and, most importantly, lives — trying to rebuild countries in our own image instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations.”
Unfortunately, this veiled reference to Iraq doesn’t apply as well to Afghanistan, where our main goal has been simply not to lose. It’s distinctly unclear if slight revisions to the Obama-era strategy will allow us to pursue our security interests effectively, even without competing goals.
After nearly 16 years of war in Afghanistan, Trump offered little beyond the certainty that the United States will continue to pursue a vaguely defined victory, which Trump himself defined as “attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaida, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge.”
Such commitment to further military operations in Afghanistan is a significant turnaround for Trump, who repeatedly argued in recent years for withdrawal from Afghanistan. “Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there,” he tweeted in 2013. “Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.”
Indeed, his skepticism of foreign adventurism and emphasis on putting America first were defining features of his presidential campaign. Recommitting to failed policies in Afghanistan is just more of the same.
If there is any bright spot for Americans fatigued from decades of perpetual war, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a statement following Trump’s speech reiterating that the United States stands “ready to support peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban without preconditions.”
Until such talks materialize, the costs and timeline involved in achieving victory in Afghanistan are now set to extend far beyond almost any American’s imagination in the weeks after 9/11 — or even the weeks after the death of Osama bin Laden.
Absent another reversal from Trump, the best we can hope for at this point is that Trump’s strategy gets us out of Afghanistan sooner than later, rather than deepening us further into conflicts on the other side of the planet with little-to-no benefit to America.
Orange County Register, Oct. 22