President Trump reversed himself on Afghanistan Monday in announcing thousands of more troops are heading to the war-torn nation.
In his address Monday night, Trump admitted that he went against his instincts on doubling-down on America’s military commitment in Afghanistan.
“My original instinct was to pull out — and, historically, I like following my instincts. But all of my life, I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office,” the president stated. (RELATED: Trump Announces Plans To Stay In Afghanistan, Shift To ‘Conditions’ Based Withdrawal)
The person arguably most responsible for that change of mind is National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. It has long been reported that the Army general wanted more troops in Afghanistan — the problem was convincing the president to agree.
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was a vocal opponent of increasing troop numbers and urged for a gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan. Trump himself agreed with this sentiment in numerous past statements on Twitter.
“We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives,” he tweeted back in 2013. “If we have to go back in, we go in hard & quick. Rebuild the US first.” (RELATED: Trump Has Been Against The War In Afghanistan For Years)
But McMaster was apparently able to convince Trump with the help of one picture. The national security advisor was able to persuade about the promise of staying in Afghanistan with an image of Afghan women wearing short skirts in the 1970s. (RELATED: McMaster Showed Trump Picture Of Afghan Women In Skirts To Sell Troop Increase)
To McMaster, this was proof that Afghanistan could embrace western norms and it’s America’s job to spread them to the people. It appears Trump agreed.
The United States has been in the Asian country for almost 16 years. A child born in 2001 will soon be able to fight in the war that has been going on for his entire life.
What are we going to do differently now that will convince the locals to be just like us?
The answer is that we are not going to do any differently, and we’re still sticking to the same delusions that buttressed the nation-building frenzy of the Bush years.
Trump may say that this he’s not engaged in nation-building, but he was convinced to stay in Afghanistan on the basis that we could make the country more western. That sounds awfully like our mission in the country is nation-building.
The most important question to ask for American involvement in Afghanistan is what is victory?
Is it the total neutralization of the Taliban? Is it making sure ISIS and al-Qaeda no longer find safe haven there? Is it ensuring a western-style democracy is well-entrenched and capable of defending itself without U.S. aid?
What makes it confusing for the public is that the answer we’re getting from our leaders is a vague blending of all three. Politicians will say we can’t leave with ISIS there — even though the terror group wasn’t there when we first invaded in 2001 — and we just have to stay put longer to make sure the country becomes more like us.
America has been there for 16 years and there are only few signs of progress. The Taliban is still around and nearly as strong as it was before we arrived. Western values and norms are mostly absent in a country where Islamic fundamentalism still dominates. It doesn’t appear that whatever government we set up will last long without the aid of American arms.
The situation in Afghanistan resembles, in some ways, another foreign entanglement that General McMaster knows very well: Vietnam. The national security advisor wrote a critically acclaimed book in 1997 on the Vietnam conflict and how the generals didn’t do enough to warn the civilian leadership of the grave dangers of American escalation in that country.
In Vietnam, America helped prop up a South Vietnamese regime that couldn’t last on its own, we faced an enemy we couldn’t defeat by military means and we had a hard time defining what victory meant. Some thought more troops were the solution to bringing peace to Vietnam, similar to what is proposed today in Afghanistan.
But it’s hard to eradicate an enemy that continues to spring up among the population you’re trying to win over — and no amount of soldiers can solve that problem.
All the blood and resources America put into the southeast Asian nation ended up with it turning into a communist state right after we left. Similarly, if we leave Afghanistan, there is a strong chance it will revert back to the control of the Taliban.
That seems like a terrible situation for the U.S., but is the present stalemate any better? The nation is still a harbor for terrorism and we can’t stop Pakistan from undermining our efforts to wipe out Islamic militants.
Dozens of brave young Americans have to come home every year in caskets due to our continued involvement. We spend billions of dollars to maintain our commitment.
Is all this worth it to keep the terrible status quo?
We eventually left Vietnam because the American people were sick of seeing our boys fight and die in the jungle for a cause that wasn’t clear. The difference is then we had the draft, today we don’t.
Trump’s speech is one of the first times Afghanistan became a major news item in recent years. For the most part, we ignore it and forget that there’s young Americans fighting and dying every day there.
Most polling shows that Americans want us out of the country, but it’s not a pressing issue when few have to suffer from it.
Hopefully, Trump listens to his instincts and reassess American commitment when he’s up for reelection.