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How the Brass Talked Another President Into a Losing Strategy

The American people don’t like long wars with uncertain outcomes—and never have. That was true in 1953, when the U.S. accepted a stalemate and armistice with the Chinese-backed North Koreans, and it was true again in 1975, when the U.S. suffered an ignominious defeat and 58,000 dead at the hands of pajama-clad guerrillas and the North Vietnamese army. “Never fight a land war in Asia,” General Douglas MacArthur famously said, and for good reason: in both Korea and Vietnam, the enemy could be endlessly supplied and reinforced.

The solution, in both cases, was to either widen the war or leave. In Korea, MacArthur proposed expanding the war by taking on Chinese military sanctuaries in China (which got him fired), while in Vietnam, Richard Nixon ordered the invasion of Cambodia and mined North Vietnam’s harbors, an expansion of the war that sparked a genocide and merely postponed the inevitable. America’s adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have been as unsatisfying. A troop surge retrieved America’s position in Iraq, though most military officers now view Baghdad as “a suburb of Tehran” (as a currently serving Army officer phrased it), while the U.S. has spent over $800 billion on a Kabul government whose writ extends to sixty percent of the country—or less.

Given this, it’s not surprising that opinion surveys showed that the majority of the U.S. military supported Donald Trump in the last election; Trump promised a rethink of America’s Iraq and Afghanistan’s adventures, while Clinton was derided as an interventionist, or in Pentagon parlance, “cruise missile liberal.” Trump had the edge over his opponent among both military voters and veterans, especially when it came to ISIS: “I would bomb the shit out of them” he said, [1] a statement translated in the military community as “I would bomb the shit out of them—and get out.” A headline in The Military Times [2] two months before the election said it all: “After 15 years of war, America’s military has about had it with ‘nation building.’”

As it turned out, the military weren’t the only ones who’d “had it with nation building”—so too did Donald Trump. Back in January 2013, two years before he was a candidate for president, Trump made it clear what he would do if he ever occupied the White House. “Let’s get out of Afghanistan,” he tweeted. [3] “Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.” Three days later, Trump was even more outspoken, explicitly endorsing Barack Obama’s Afghanistan strategy—which amounted to a troops surge, followed by a troop drawdown. “I agree with Pres. Obama on Afghanistan,” he wrote. “We should have a speedy withdrawal. Why should we keep wasting our money – rebuild the U.S.!”

Now, after addressing the American people Monday [4]on his “new strategy in South Asia” (a purposeful trope used to signal his intention to shape a broader, regional policy), Trump appears to have embraced the military’s anti-nation building sentiments, while adopting a policy of “winning,” though without saying exactly how that would happen. The policy— which also includes not saying how many troops “winning” will take, or setting a timetable for victory—includes a pledge of help from America’s allies, and a new focus on Pakistan. Trump was also intent to signal that his new strategy (the war will be left in the hands of warfighters, he announced, and not “micro-managed from Washington”) is much different than the one adopted by his predecessors who, as he all but said, got it wrong.

In fact, though he would almost certainly deny it, what Trump has proposed is a reprise of what Barack Obama did in January of 2009.

Back then, one of Obama’s first decisions on Afghanistan was to assign Bruce Riedel, a 30-year CIA veteran and South Asia expert, to study the conflict and come up with ways to fight it. The following March, on Air Force One, Riedel briefed Obama on his conclusions. Afghanistan would be a big problem for a long time, he said, but the situation in the country was getting worse. The Kabul government was corrupt, its leaders were out-of-touch with the Afghan people and the Taliban and al-Qaeda were gaining strength. But even with that, Riedel added, the real problem wasn’t really Afghanistan, it was Pakistan. “That’s the real challenge,” Riedel said.

Obama agreed with Riedel’s sobering assessment and, on March 27, 2009, he announced his decision to the American people. “The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor Pakistan,” Obama said in a nationally televised address. “In the nearly eight years since 9/11, al-Qaeda and its extremist allies have moved across the border to the remote areas of the Pakistani frontier.” Put more simply (though Obama did not mention it), the same problem that the U.S. had faced in Korea, and again in Vietnam and Iraq—its failure to destroy the sanctuaries where its enemies could be reinforced and resupplied—it was now facing in Afghanistan. To deal with that problem, Obama appointed super-diplomat Richard Holbrooke to serve as a special envoy to the region (and to work with Centcom commander David Petraeus “to integrate our civilian and military efforts”), launched a drone war against Taliban and al-Qaeda bases in Pakistan, urged Congress to pass a $1.5 billion aid package to Pakistan that would make American strikes more palatable and then, the following May, replaced General David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, with Stanley McChrystal.

It didn’t work.

In 2012, reporter and author Rajiv Chandrasekaran (whose book Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan remains the authoritative source on the Obama plan) concluded that while the Taliban was “pushed out of large stretches of southern Afghanistan,” and the “influx of U.S. resources accelerated the development of the Afghan security forces” the surge did not achieve its objectives [5]. In effect, the Obama administration threw good money after bad: Afghan president Hamid Karzai never bought into the strategy, the Pakistanis failed to “meaningfully pursue” the Taliban and the Afghan army hung back—allowing the U.S. to do the fighting. What the U.S. should have done, Chandrasekaran wrote, was “go long.” Afghanistan is not a sprint, he concluded, but a marathon—and America “got winded too quickly.”

James Mattis and H.R. McMaster have digested these lessons, a senior Pentagon official told me just hours before Trump’s national address, and “have spent the last weeks trying to convince the president that the ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ approach,” as he termed it, will work. Roughly translated, what that means is that in adopting a more modest increase in American troops, as McMaster and Mattis told Trump, the president would be signaling that while the U.S. was willing to help the Afghan government fight the Taliban, the numbers would not be significant enough to defeat them—that would have to be done by the Afghan Army. In truth, the McMaster-Mattis approach (what one senior Pentagon officer described as “doubling down on a war that is going nowhere”) has some support in the U.S. diplomatic community, and particularly among those civilians who have spent years working in the country.

Among these is David Sedney, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who is the former acting president of the American University of Afghanistan and served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. For Sedney, it’s the uncertainty of the American commitment that has been the problem. “We’ve been ambivalent about Afghanistan for the last fifteen years,” he told The American Conservative, “and this has given hope to the Taliban and Pakistan. The message that they’ve taken is that all they need do is wait the U.S. out. Bush focused on Iraq and Obama put in troops caps.” One of the keys, Sedney goes on to say, is that the U.S. “has failed to strengthen the Afghan state in fundamental ways, but the most important is to make a commitment and keep it. That’s the key.”

Sedney also has little use for the views retailed inside the White House by outside experts, like Frontier Services Group president Eric Prince, who advised the administration (in a Wall Street Journal op-ed back in May, and then in a personal meeting with McMaster) to increase the number of contractors in the country, thereby allowing for a drawdown in U.S. troops while also, as Prince argued, saving the U.S. money. While some Pentagon officials speculated as late as last week that secretary Mattis “was not as opposed to the Prince’s ideas as was originally thought,” more recent reports say that the idea “was dead on arrival in the Pentagon, almost from the minute it was mentioned.” Sedney dismisses the idea out of hand, citing his experience with his students in Kabul. “My students don’t want an American proconsul,” he says, “they want an Afghan government that knows how to do the job, and that should be our focus.”

But while Trump has apparently nixed Prince’s contractor idea (and it went unmentioned in his speech), Pentagon officials tell The American Conservative that he has quietly bought into claims that the U.S. can help revive the Afghan economy by exploiting the nation’s mineral resources. While Trump did not mention the program in his speech, and the claim remains debated in the White House, the president (a senior Pentagon civilian told TAC) “is intent to explore ways for this war to pay for itself”—which apparently includes a review of whether Afghanistan’s resources can be exploited sufficiently to put the Afghan government on a sound footing. Will it work?

“This was a good idea back in 2009,” one former Pentagon official says, “but it’s not going to work now.” A geologic survey conducted a decade ago shows that Afghanistan is rich in deposits of gold, silver, and platinum, as well as large quantities of uranium, zinc, bauxite, coal, natural gas and copper—a mother lode of natural resources that could proved Kabul with a badly needed budgetary windfall [6].

“It’s a pig in a poke,” a former Pentagon official who worked in Afghanistan on identifying the deposits told The American Conservative, “don’t believe a word of it.” The archaic “pig in a poke” phrase, which denotes that a buyer should beware of buying a pig that couldn’t be seen (because it was in a “poke,” or bag), denotes the common belief that while Afghanistan may contain the mineral deposits numerous mining surveys have identified, they remain elusive. Then too, as the former Pentagon official with whom we spoke says, the idea that American companies will realize a windfall on the mineral scheme (to which, as a businessman, Trump is particularly attracted), is simply not in reach.

“American companies no longer do the kind of mining that it would take,” this former Pentagon official says, “security is bad, and commodity prices have collapsed. Why would companies invest in mineral deposits in Afghanistan when they won’t make the same investments in Australia.” Which is to simply say that the Afghanistan problem is now, under Trump, what it was under George W. Bush and Barack Obama—an intransigent challenge whose resolution is dependent on fighting and winning a war against an enemy who can fight, retreat, resupply and reinforce and fight again. The key to that victory is now what it has always been: Pakistan. Trump, and McMaster and Mattis, realize this of course, which is why tonight the president focused on providing a strategy for “South Asia”—a phrase the defense secretary, in particular, has used over the last weeks.

“I have hope for Afghanistan,” CSIS’s Sedney says. “The Afghan military is fighting better than ever before. When I went to Kabul in 2002, Kabul looked like Dresden, but now it’s a vibrant city. Yes, the Taliban can kill people, but most Afghanis are moving ahead with their lives in spite of this. The problem is that, as we’ve seen over the last decade, a small minority can keep the country destabilized. That’s what we have to stop. We have to come up with a way of stopping that.”

In the wake of Trump’s address, credit for its opening paean was given to new White House chief of staff John Kelly, the retired Marine Corps general who, TAC was told, insisted that Trump use the speech to walk back the controversy of his remarks on Charlottesville—a suggestion that both McMaster and Mattis readily agreed to when Trump’s national security team met on Friday at Camp David. In the end, however, it was McMaster and Mattis who had the greatest influence on Trump’s thinking. “There was all this speculation that maybe, just maybe, the president would somehow come around to getting out,” the senior Pentagon civilian with whom we spoke said, “but that was never going to happen. Jim Mattis wouldn’t let it happen. You can see his fingerprints all over this.”

Another Pentagon observer had a much different take. “This is Joe Biden’s plan, all the way,” he said, referring to the then-Vice President’s recommendation to Obama back in 2009. “Biden said that we should increase counterterrorism operations, draw down U.S. forces in the provinces, increase pressure on Pakistan and make a deal with India. Obama said ‘no’ to the idea, but you can bet Mattis was listening. This is his plan all the way.”

Almost everyone at the Pentagon agrees, though key senior military officers who have been privy to James Mattis’s thinking over the last weeks (but who remain unconvinced by it) provide a cautionary, and nearly fatalistic, note. “This Trump plan, at least so far as I understand it, sounds a lot like the kind of plan we’ve come up with again and again since the end of World War Two,” a senior Pentagon officer says. “We’re going to surge troops, reform the government we support and put pressure on our allies. In this building [the Pentagon] there’s a hell of a lot of skepticism. And that’s because we all know what this new strategy really means – and what it means that the only way we can get out of Afghanistan is to get further in. You know, it seems to me that if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that that doesn’t work.”

Mark Perry is a foreign policy analyst and the author of  The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur [7]His next book, The Pentagon’s Wars [8]will be released in October. He tweets @markperrydc [9]

43 Comments (Open | Close)

43 Comments To "How the Brass Talked Another President Into a Losing Strategy"

#1 Comment By MEOW On August 21, 2017 @ 11:18 pm

Conflict Deaths and the song goes on
Span
Casualties
American Revolutionary War
1775-1783
25,000
Northwest Indian War
1785-1795
~1,056
Quasi-War
1798-1800
514
War of 1812
1812-1815
~20,000
1st Seminole War
1817-1818
36
Black Hawk War
1832
305
2nd Seminole War
1835-1842
1,535
Mexican-American War
1846-1848
13,283
3rd Seminole War
1855-1858
26
American Civil War
1861-1865
~625,000
Indian Wars
1865-1898
919
Great Sioux War
1875-1877
314
Spanish-American War
1898
2,446
Philippine-American War
1898-1913
4,196
Boxer Rebellion
1900-1901
131
Mexican Revolution
1914-1919
~35
Haiti Occupation
1915-1934
148
World War 1
1917-1918
116,516
North Russia Campaign
1918-1920
424
American Expeditionary Force Siberia
1918-1920
328
Nicaragua Occupation
1927-1933
48
World War 2
1941-1945
405,399
Korean War
1950-1953
36,516
Vietnam War
1955-1975
58,209
El Salvador Civil War
1980-1992
37
Beirut
1982-1984
266
Grenada
1983
19
Panama
1989
40
Persian Gulf War
1990-1991
258
Operation Provide Comfort
1991-1996
19
Somalia Intervention
1992-1995
43
Bosnia
1995-2004
12
NATO Air Campaign Yugoslavia
1999
20
Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)
2001-2014
2,356
Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq)
2003-2012
4,489

#2 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 21, 2017 @ 11:48 pm

Well, two things are sure. A hell of a lot more people are going to die and a hell of a lot of money is going to be made. I guess it took business smarts to see war as a going concern that can be managed so that it returns even stronger quarterly profits. What’s good for General Dynamics is good for the country.

#3 Comment By john On August 22, 2017 @ 1:47 am

Why after stealing billions why would the Afghan government “reform” itself? They practically have an interest in prolonging the conflict and the gusher of American $ it provides. The only trick is knowing when it is time to leave.

So our brave troops sacrifice to prop up a venal and corrupt government?

#4 Comment By Andrew Zook On August 22, 2017 @ 6:02 am

What if Trump’s character and his supporters’ character (lack thereof) made it easy for this to come about? I know here at TAC there was an effort to make Trumpism appear to be non-confrontational… but Trump’s a good con-man and those of us who were/are #neverTrump saw that years ago and now that he’s in numerous bad spots, he’ll do what humans like him (of such low character) have always done… distract and posture and pick fights that kill other people in a quest to feel like a winner again… God help us through this and maybe this time we’ll learn our lesson.

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 22, 2017 @ 7:22 am

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,

No.

” . . . accepted a stalemate and armistice with the Chinese-backed North Koreans, and it was true again in 1975, when the U.S. suffered an ignominious defeat and 58,000 dead at the hands of pajama-clad guerrillas and the North Vietnamese army.”

Since the US military was not in Vietnam in 1975, I it’s going to be very tough to read through the rest of this. One of these days the self flagellation about Vietnam will eventually cease.
Our departure was premature, but a defeat it was not.

Good grief. Aside from the US Embassy, the military presence in Vietnam was minimal. We all but departed in 1973. Had we remained, it most likely would have modeled the situation between North and South Korea.

What is clear is that the US lacks any confidence in the Afghanistan military to defend whatever quasi-democracy we have established and we are not going to set about chasing terrorists, around the country. I would note that the Taliban are not terrorists. Though I suspect that is about to change.

#6 Comment By Garry Kelly On August 22, 2017 @ 8:28 am

Can’t support the President on this.

#7 Comment By George_Patton On August 22, 2017 @ 9:04 am

Mr. Merry, we fight wars and we win them.

Not sure if liberals like you want to go cry in your safe space, but in America we don’t let the terrorists win.

This is what Trump will do, he will let those Arabs in Afghanistan know whose boss. I thought this was the american CONSERVATIVE, not the American Pansy.

#8 Comment By Alan On August 22, 2017 @ 9:33 am

I am against this escalation and I hope the Europeans don’t go along with it.

Also Trump singles out Pakistan for criticism
Can anyone tell me how the US can get supplies to Afghanistan without Pakistan?

Afghanistan is landlocked and cooperation with Pakistan is the essential

#9 Comment By Michael Kenny On August 22, 2017 @ 9:52 am

Needless to say, Afghanistan is unwinnable. Stare parties always lose guerilla wars. Trump needs a war to validate his presidency but the only war that will bring him any benefit is a “war on Putin”. He has to get Putin out of Ukraine before Russiagate expands into an investigation of his business dealings with Russia and his taxes. The more Trump fishes around for someone other than Putin to fight, the more he reinforces the suspicions that underlie Russiagate.

#10 Comment By Conservative American On August 22, 2017 @ 10:11 am

@George_Patton : “he [Trump] will let those Arabs in Afghanistan know whose boss. I thought this was the american CONSERVATIVE, not the American Pansy.”

You borrowed the honorable name of Patton. But the real George Patton wouldn’t fight a stupid, unnecessary war. The real George Patton was a military scholar who closely studied his enemy; you can bet your a** he would know that Afghans aren’t Arabs.

Ignorance like this gives American conservatism a bad name. TAC’s writers are trying to fix that. Get out of their way.

#11 Comment By Clifford Story On August 22, 2017 @ 10:16 am

Donnie was not ENTIRELY silent on Afghanistan’s natural resources. Kevin Drum heard this tidbit, and confirmed it from the transcript:

“In this struggle, the heaviest burden will continue to be borne by the good people of Afghanistan and their courageous armed forces. As the prime minister of Afghanistan has promised, we are going to participate in economic development to help defray the cost of this war to us.”

[10]

I’m sure this will work almost as well as using Iraqi oil to pay for that war…

#12 Comment By Sam On August 22, 2017 @ 10:21 am

My God this is demoralizing!

#13 Comment By Conewago On August 22, 2017 @ 10:33 am

“‘Three yards and a cloud of dusty'” is a reference to a classic of American football, Woody Hayes.

But any true college football enthusiast knows the sordid way in which Coach Hayes saw his great career end: [11]

He was too stubborn for his own good.

Americans of the post-Vietnam breed, like football fans, no longer take to three yards and a cloud of dust. Even if it was worth trying in Afghanistan, this country couldn’t do it for long.

More likely is that this crazy contractor idea takes over and we turn Afghanistan into a lackluster version of the East India Company. Where is our Edmund Burke?

#14 Comment By Hexexis On August 22, 2017 @ 10:37 am

“how the US can get supplies to Afghanistan without Pakistan?”

This has always been a Pakistan demand: in the main, not so much for Afghanistan but to retain so-called defenses against India. Pakistan has steadfastly subsidized interlopers in Afghanistan w/ the dear hope that they’ll aid in any skirmish in the Hindu Kush.

#15 Comment By Mac61 On August 22, 2017 @ 10:43 am

Three yards and a cloud of dust worked well for Ohio State in the 1970s. They don’t play football like that anymore.

We have strategies for containment or for mitigating greater damage not for winning. Like Donald Rumsfeld, we as a country mostly go about our business not caring and not even thinking about it because the toll is “an acceptable death rate.”

I teach community college freshman who do not even know who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, nor do they know why we are in Afghanistan. Their top three guesses for who was behind 9/11 were 1. Russia, 2. China, 3. North Korea.

Rebuild the USA.

#16 Comment By George_Patton On August 22, 2017 @ 10:48 am

Conservative American,

I think you are in the minority both here and in the country. We who want to make America Great Again, can only do so if we show how strong we are. And I admire Patton, he studied the enemy to kill them, thats what military people do. Not Pansies.

At least, EliteCommInc understands this. We think we lost Vietnam because it was pounded into us by the liberal media. We won that war, and left because it was time for us to leave.

#17 Comment By March Hare On August 22, 2017 @ 10:53 am

Former mining guy checking in here. This mineral resources argument is a fantasy, pure and simple.

Mineral resources, with the possible exception of gold, require modern transportation. Get this through your heads, guys, rocks are heavy. Afghanistan is landlocked, extremely mountainous, with horrible roads, no railroads, and limited water resources.

In the case of gold, artisanal mining (Joe and Bubba with a couple bulldozers and a heap leach pad) might be able to make a few bucks. Everything else requires either cheap bulk transportation (trains or ships) or requires the construction of concentrators and smelters nearby. Those facilities need water, and a local workforce.

None of that infrastructure exists now, and none will be constructed realistically within the next 16 years. And if it were, where would all the goodies go? West through Iran, northeast through to China, so who would be benefitting from all that expense?

#18 Comment By peterc On August 22, 2017 @ 11:01 am

A few more stars for the brass, many more $ for the defense industry.
At the cost of more dead and maimed – ours and theirs.
Their dead and maimed will increase the number of those who “love” us.
And we will foot the bill.
I was hoping for something else.

#19 Comment By Dan Green On August 22, 2017 @ 11:19 am

No surprises here. Trump is surrounded by military. When one thinks about it, we are typically a waring nation always involved in a war or some conflict we choose to stick our nose in. Obama had zero use for the military brass and therefore the brass had zero influence for 8 long years.

#20 Comment By Jon S On August 22, 2017 @ 11:41 am

This is an unquestionable defeat for Trump’s voters.

#21 Comment By One Man On August 22, 2017 @ 12:28 pm

Trump should declare victory and leave. It will fool his supporters, who have proven they are easily fooled.

#22 Comment By David Smith On August 22, 2017 @ 12:53 pm

The problem with having an empire is that eventually the empire owns you. It must be preserved and defended at any cost. A few thousand troops will not make a difference. Thus the classic dilemma: we can’t win and we can’t leave. This is the definition of a defeat. We can send as many troops as we want, we can keep them there as long as we want, we can drop as many bombs as we want, we can kill as many people as we want, but we can’t control the country.

#23 Comment By FreeOregon On August 22, 2017 @ 1:54 pm

Robert E. Lee and Douglas McArthur are sorely missed.

Maybe the generals have a limited mindset, one not geared to achieving resolution, and peace?

#24 Comment By Fabian On August 22, 2017 @ 1:58 pm

Two things
1st) Trump needs the military’s support if he wants to stay in power. He will obey the military.
2nd) You give these deadlines they can’t keep so you get rid of the deadline. Typical mismanagement.

#25 Comment By Narmvyguy On August 22, 2017 @ 2:02 pm

I back Trump. Period

#26 Comment By HenionJD On August 22, 2017 @ 2:23 pm

And I was worried I wouldn’t be leaving anything for my grandchildren.

#27 Comment By Who Da Boss On August 22, 2017 @ 2:25 pm

@George_Patton – “We who want to make America Great Again, can only do so if we show how strong we are. ”

But Trump’s not strong. He’s weak! He can’t even show his generals who’s boss, like Truman did, or Lincoln. He can’t even show Bibi Netanyahu who’s boss! He lets Israel rip us off while we do all the fighting. Hell, Trump can’t even show MITCH MCCONNELL who’s boss!

We need a strong, conservative American president, not a weak punk like Trump.

#28 Comment By PR Doucette On August 22, 2017 @ 3:52 pm

Interesting that this article or any others on the same topic make any mention of the concerns the US government and/or military have regarding the warming relationship between Pakistan and China and the recent agreement between these countries to develop a road/rail link between China and the development of a new deep sea port on the coast of the Arabian Sea in Pakistan. My guess is that despite what Trump says career US military and diplomatic leaders were more interested in sending a signal to not just Pakistan but also China, Iran and to a lesser extent Russia and other Middle East countries that the US was not going to allow itself to be pushed out of South Asia.

#29 Comment By Someone in the crowd On August 22, 2017 @ 4:33 pm

This is a huge victory for everyone who wants to see the U.S. continue bleeding itself to death while feeding a bloated ‘defense’ and imperial bureaucracy.

One can blame Trump for caving. But the real engine behind this is the sheer inertia of money and career. It turns out to be an unstoppable force: unthinking, blind, and stupid.

Welcome to Idiocracy.

#30 Comment By Trump The Loser On August 22, 2017 @ 4:47 pm

” We think we lost Vietnam because it was pounded into us by the liberal media. We won that war, and left because it was time for us to leave.”

When you leave the enemy in possession of the field, you lost.

When you have to beg the enemy to return your dead and missing, you lost.

When you leave town with desperate people fighting each other for places in evacuation helos, you lost.

End of story.

#31 Comment By philadelphialawyer On August 22, 2017 @ 5:03 pm

EC Inc.:

“…the US military was not in Vietnam in 1975…
Our departure was premature, but a defeat it was not…Aside from the US Embassy, the military presence in Vietnam was minimal. We all but departed in 1973. Had we remained, it most likely would have modeled the situation between North and South Korea….”

You know what? At this point, I would agree in advance to the same revisionist, not to mention farcical, account of our non “defeat” in Afghanistan in the future, if we would just get out now. Perhaps the Erik Prince plan, of sending mercs and “contractors” to do the dirty work of providing the “decent interval” between the “premature departure” of actual, bona fide, American military personnel, and the fall of the puppet, unpopular, grotesquely corrupt government that we installed and kept on life support for a umpteen years, is the best available.

Then, when Quisling Jr. is deposed in Kabul, forty years later, people like you can say, “Well by golly, the good ole US of A never actually ‘lost’ in Afghanistan, it just got out too early….why there weren’t any honest-to-God ‘mercan troops in country when the capitol fell and the toady government ran away…” Just as you say now about Vietnam.

The US lost in Vietnam. It is going to lose in Afghanistan too. You can dress it up any way you want to, and sing your endless songs of rationalizations and logic chopping non sense. I don’t care. I just want us to get out. Like, yesterday.

“What is clear is that the US lacks any confidence in the Afghanistan military to defend whatever quasi-democracy we have established and we are not going to set about chasing terrorists, around the country…..”

Again, whatevs. Let’s just get out now, and can the crap about “democracy” or even “quasi democracy” and “terrorism” and the rest of it.

But, failing that, let’s replace US troops with US guns for hire. So that, again, when the curtain comes down, we can keep our “undefeated” record intact.

#32 Comment By philadelphialawyer On August 22, 2017 @ 5:11 pm

One Man:

“Trump should declare victory and leave.”

Exactly. It was what Nixon did in Vietnam, although it took him four years to do it.

“It will fool his supporters, who have proven they are easily fooled.”

You can see that there are folks still fooled by Nixon’s actions in 1973.

It is much more important that we get out than that everyone actually understand that we are getting out because we lost rather than because we won. If Trump got us out of Afghanistan right now, I would say good for him, even if he lied and said it was because we had already won.

#33 Comment By Dieter Heymann On August 22, 2017 @ 5:31 pm

March Hare. When I consider the emergence of China since the death of Mao I would not rule out the possibility that its engineers and Afghan work force could create the infrastructure needed to make Afghanistan’s mining profitable in less than 16 years.

#34 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 22, 2017 @ 7:46 pm

“When you leave the enemy in possession of the field, you lost.

When you have to beg the enemy to return your dead and missing, you lost.

When you leave town with desperate people fighting each other for places in evacuation helos, you lost.

End of story.”

These are old arguments, and just as incorrect as when they were first introduced. Not even close.

1. When the US departed Vietnam, the demarcations were clear. The disputed area oft referenced was forgone in lie of the treaty, in other words, it was enough that North Vietnam gave up the fight.

2. What a bizarre notion. When conflict ends it is customary for both sides to return prisoners of war. Ensuring that all of one’s citizens have ben returned is not an indication of anything ecept loyalty to those men. Now the issue you are attempting to pin loss on revolves around the hotly contested belief that US citizens were not returned in full, partly due to the fact that the North Vietnamese did not control all of its fighting forces. That some forces refused to turn over US citizens remains a belief among many US citizens. But the evidence is thin that such was the case. I like that movie Uncommon Valor as well — whether or not it reflects fact has yet to be demonstrated.

3. You are making the exact same error the author makes. The departure of the embassy personnel from South Vietnam reflects only that departure. The defeats that led to that departure had nothing to do with the US military which had departed after the peace agreement in 1973. Your shallow depth of history here based on photos out of context with reality is troubling. The US military was not present to defend South Vietnam.

There is an end to the story, but you have it completely incorrect on many levels.

#35 Comment By philadelphialawyer On August 22, 2017 @ 8:54 pm

“My guess is that despite what Trump says career US military and diplomatic leaders were more interested in sending a signal to not just Pakistan but also China, Iran and to a lesser extent Russia and other Middle East countries that the US was not going to allow itself to be pushed out of South Asia.”

Trump is the President. Its his job and duty and responsibility to push back against those “leaders.” Same as it was Obama’s. Both failed.

Also, you have hit on the very reason why the US, even if one concedes that it must play the Great Game, can certainly afford to be “pushed out of South Asia.” Russia and China and Pakistan and India and Iran and Turkey and the Arabs, and others, all have interests there. There is a natural balance of power in Mainland Asia. The US simply does not need to be a player there. Central Asia is far from any vital US interest, any US treaty ally, any important shipping lane, any important anything. If there is one place on Earth that the US can reasonably concede to others the task of policing and controlling it has got to be Central Asia.

Just let it go.

#36 Comment By john On August 22, 2017 @ 8:55 pm

I do object to the title of the article, this isn’t a losing strategy, this is a not-winning strategy. You might ask yourself what you are doing playing a game where winning is impossible?

#37 Comment By Janwaar Bibi On August 22, 2017 @ 9:41 pm

This has always been a Pakistan demand: in the main, not so much for Afghanistan but to retain so-called defenses against India. Pakistan has steadfastly subsidized interlopers in Afghanistan w/ the dear hope that they’ll aid in any skirmish in the Hindu Kush.

To understand Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, you need to look at their border, which is called the Durand Line, after some Brit who drew it on the map.

The Durand Line cuts right through the Pashtun homelands, so you have Pashtuns on both sides. Afghanistan is dominated by Pashtuns, and they have never recognized the Durand Line – in fact, Afghanistan was the only country in the world that voted against admitting Pakistan to the UN in 1948 for this reason, and even the Taliban refused to recognize the Durand Line.

Pakistan is dominated by Punjabis, and their nightmare is that if a strong Afghan government were to emerge, their Pashtun province of Khyber-Pakhtunkwa might want to secede and join their fellow Pashtuns in Afghanistan. To prevent this, they have undermined every government in Afghanistan and kept it weak by funding rival tribes.

Since it is politically incorrect to say that they are undermining a fellow Muslim state, the Pakistani government puts out some BS about the need for “strategic depth” against India. India has fought numerous wars against Pakistan but they were border skirmishes – neither side advanced more than 20-30 km inside the other’s territory (1971 is another story). We are already blessed with 200 million Muslims in India – no one in his right mind wants to occupy Pakistan and take in another 200 million, a lot of whom are fanatics and jihadis. If there was some way to saw Pakistan off and float it out into the Indian Ocean, we would do it in a heartbeat.

By the way, the Hindu Kush is part of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, not with India. No Hindus left alive there by the Religion of Peace for anyone to worry about.

#38 Comment By Procopius On August 23, 2017 @ 4:01 am

The only way anybody is going to exploit Afghanistan’s mineral resourced is if somebody spends a hell of a lot of money building roads in that country. Anybody who thinks that’s going to be done by the companies who are slavering to get rich off this pipe dream is delusional. The best thing we could do is shrug our shoulders, say well, we won, and walk away. There is no way wa can make amends for what we have done to the various tribes (mostly Pashto == Taliban) who make up Afghanistan. There is no way we can prevent the money we try to spend on “nation building” from being stolen.

#39 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 23, 2017 @ 5:31 am

“The US lost in Vietnam. It is going to lose in Afghanistan too. You can dress it up any way you want to, and sing your endless songs of rationalizations and logic chopping non sense. I don’t care. I just want us to get out. Like, yesterday.”

Anyone who has actually attended to my litany of dialogues as poorly written as they may knows, my position rests soley on the data.

But in this discussion, before even getting why we won, it’s vital that the data sets are correct. And on the issue of what occurred in 1975, the oft cited Embassy departure is used to signify a rout of US forces.

That is factually incorrect. The Us military withdrew from Vietnam in 1973.

The US has lost three conflicts in my view.

The war of 1812. Iraq as the country fell apart upon our arrival and broke into civil war immediately, which we permitted. And the country’s decline occurred during our occupation and remained so after our departure. We accomplished not a single major objective. Ira is not a democracy. They had no weapons of mass destruction. They ha no role in 9/11. The removal of Pres and the established government backfired to our primary objectives. That counts as a loss.

It requires no revision of the facts to come to a conclusion concerning Vietnam. It does require standing to the rhetorical press of liberals and a media that has gotten nearly everything wrong about what transpired in Vietnam and why were there.

Many believe that if one says it long enough, loud enough and with enough emotion,

“We lost in Vietnam”

it will be accurate. That is just not the case. And the attempts to make parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam remain very thin fare. We ma very well lose the Afghanistan conflict. I was opposed to an invasion for the troubles we have and for the ethical violations in pursuing invasion for the cause. Our invasion has exacerbated the sues we invaded to address, in that respect it is a failure. But as we remain in country, it appears we continue to pursue agreeable objectives – I dobt that a strategy involving 4500 troops will do the trick , but as we have not departed — I hesitate to call the matter a loss.

What haunts us is Vietnam. Part of the reason it haunts us is because of what occurred inside the US not in Vietnam. It was truly the fist war brought nearly live into the lives of the US public. And wars reality is had to stomach. It is messy. Many used the messiness to make false claims about the purpose of the war itself.

That is not an effective means of gauging a win or loss. Wars are nasty affairs. It’s blood and shredded flesh, severed limbs, haggard faces desperate cries, weeping, displacement, refugees, loss of innocence, pan, agony, and all manner of assault against all things sane. It’s inhumane, and normal people exposed to it — want it to end. That is not how one examines war in a win or loss bracket.

Nothing has been more painful to me that the psychological warfare visited on the men and those women who served in combat there. What they did was an honorable service on behalf of the South Vietnamese who lost many more times our own to defend their country.

Afghanistan is something vastly different. Here we invaded, unlike Vietnam, which we did not invade.

#40 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 23, 2017 @ 5:43 am

“American military personnel, and the fall of the puppet, unpopular, grotesquely corrupt government that we installed and kept on life support for a umpteen years, is the best available.”

Laughing. Unfortunately, for the US the South Vietnam government was not a puppet. Had that been the case our mission would have been much easier. In reality, that is why Pres Kennedy agreed to the arrest and eventual slaying of the Pres of South Vietnam – one need not slay one’s puppet. And the subsequent government was no picnic either.

The haunting reality of abandoning a system we supported before they can support themselves is absolutely at play. I don’t know if we can manage an honorable withdrawal but the rhetorical pose as to Afghanistan has a very familiar ring. In this scenario it may be impossible to pull off.

#41 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 23, 2017 @ 11:45 am

” There is a natural balance of power in Mainland Asia. The US simply does not need to be a player there. Central Asia is far from any vital US interest, any US treaty ally, any important shipping lane, any important anything”

excuse me . . . I oppose needless interventions as much as anyone else, but I am not going to ignore we have billons of economic interests in the regions in question.

#42 Comment By DIGriff On August 24, 2017 @ 4:01 am

You want to see some real pigs squealing? Wait until Trump has the military destroy the CIA’s poppy fields over there. THEN they will probably try and assassinate him.

#43 Comment By harold On August 24, 2017 @ 6:05 am

US foreign policy is run by the military industrial complex – You were never meant to ‘win’ as that would mean time to get out. Seems obvious to me