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Deeper Into Afghanistan Mire

This is something, and it’s not good: [1]

President Trump has given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis [2] the authority to determine troop levels in Afghanistan [3], three administration officials said Tuesday, opening the door for sending more American forces to a war that the Pentagon chief acknowledged the United States was “not winning.”

Mr. Mattis is believed to favor sending several thousand more American troops to strengthen the effort to advise Afghan forces as they push back against gains made by the Taliban, the Islamic State and other militant groups. But officials said he had not yet decided how many more forces to send to Afghanistan, or when to deploy them.

One United States official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal deliberations, said that Mr. Trump decided on Tuesday morning to grant Mr. Mattis the authority. It was the latest in a series of moves by the White House to give the Pentagon and its military commanders more latitude to deploy forces and carry out operations.


More American soldiers sent into a war we cannot win. And oh look! We’re being sucked into the Syrian civil war too. [4] Remember when Donald Trump was the candidate for withdrawing our forces from such conflicts? That was a nice lie to believe.

Furthermore, ceding civilian control over war-making policy to the generals is a troubling sign.

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85 Comments To "Deeper Into Afghanistan Mire"

#1 Comment By james On June 14, 2017 @ 3:18 pm

For too many years, it has been clear that US foreign policy has been designed by the military contracting community for the purpose of serving themselves, their shareholders, and their profits only—while the rest of America pays the price in dollars and lives. Donald Trump is arguably the least prepared person in Washington to stop the madness and return to any kind of sensible foreign policy. This will not end soon, and it will not end well.

#2 Comment By curious On June 14, 2017 @ 3:47 pm

” War Is A Racket

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes. ”


War is a Racket, by Major General Smedley Butler


#3 Comment By R.S. Rogers On June 14, 2017 @ 4:09 pm

Remember when Donald Trump was the candidate for withdrawing our forces from such conflicts?

Do you? I don’t. I just reread candidate Trump’s April and August 2016 speeches on foreign policy and terrorism – the speeches Trump’s campaign billed as his “major foreign policy addresses” – and Trump offered not one word of policy commitment about Afghanistan. On Iraq, Trump regularly criticized President Obama for withdrawing U.S. combat troops too quickly, which amounts to an implicit promise not to withdraw our troops from other theaters. Speaking in general terms at the end of the April speech, Trump said, in the same sentence, that he would get America out of the nation-building business and that he would focus on building stability around the world. That vague hedge creates a hole large enough to drive an armored division through.

And note that Page 49 of the 2016 Republican Platform explicitly promises to vest more decisionmaking authority with the uniformed military and “commanders on the ground.” This is not Trump betraying his campaign promises; this is Trump fulfilling his and his party’s stated commitments.

Furthermore, ceding civilian control over war-making policy to the generals is a troubling sign.

True, but it’s a minor and inevitable symptom of the deeper problem of ceding control of war-making to the executive rather than the legislature, where the Constitution vests it. The president has wide stated and implied powers to manage the conduct of war, once Congress has determined to make war. But aside from repelling an invasion or suppressing a rebellion for as long as it takes Congress to return to session, the Constitution gives the president no power at all to make war. As long as Congress cedes its war-making power to the president, we’ll actually be better off with the generals, not the president, making as many policy decisions as possible. Had Bush the Lesser let his generals have their way, there would have been no Iraq invasion – and we might just have won the war in Afghanistan. The same desire to avoid public accountability that has led Congress to cede its power to the president will inevitably tend to drive presidents to cede much of that power to the uniformed military.

#4 Comment By Ras Al-Ghoul On June 14, 2017 @ 5:07 pm

Rod, all you are mentioning is more or less repetition of the previous administrations’ policies. It is nothing with respect to what is going to come from the visionary policies of Trump (with the blessing of neo-cons and the Republican Party), i.e. the unequivocal support for Saudis in the Middle-East conflict.

As a reminder, the Wahhabism, the official ideology of Saudis, is the form of fundamentalism which is the worrisome cause of all your concerns about that section of the world. It is an 18th century invention, voluntarily sets itself apart from the traditional schools of Islam, both Sunni and Shiite, and like all other fundamentalisms is literal, hollow- empty of any spiritual or intellectual vision- and dangerous in its political manifestations when it takes over ignorant masses. It has not enough many times been repeated how it is spreading through the Muslim world (in the West and East), using American petrodollars and political support.


It’s only too bad we live in a time when dollars determine the thoughts. (Sigh) As you commented recently:

NFR: It’s capitalism’s fault! — RD.


#5 Comment By jk On June 14, 2017 @ 5:08 pm

Rod, don’t you see how Trump is winning and keeping his promises?

It’s a jobs program for the military and foreign contractors.

#6 Comment By Sam On June 14, 2017 @ 5:33 pm

If McCain and company keeps pushing us to go to war with Russia, and Iran… and Yeman. If every calming or peaceful gesture Trump made toward Russia wasn’t considered confirmation of collusion, I think it would be different now.

#7 Comment By Ollie On June 14, 2017 @ 6:10 pm

I imagine that in short order Trump will cede authority for all things presidential and concentrate on the invention of gossip, the decoration of the White House and the collection of emoluments. With this narrow portfolio he may be able to truthfully boast of his success.

And the country may be all the better for it.

#8 Comment By bayesian On June 14, 2017 @ 6:55 pm

I find it somehow wonderfully ironic that the helicopters in the background are Russian-manufactured* Mi-24V** “Hind-E”s, given how iconic the Hind series was of the failed Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

*They might actually be Soviet-manufactured, although that would give them a fairly high airframe age at this point.

**Multiple sources confirm that the Afghan Air Force operates 6-7 Mi-35s, which are the export versions of the Mi-24V series, but nothing I can find indicates the path by which the Afghan Air Force acquired them,or the exact submodel, which might give a clue as to when they were manufactured.

More substantively:

1) Since everything The Donald does is – by definition – winning, something must follow from the fact that Sec Mattis says the US is “not winning”. What follows, I’m not sure, other than any possible problem is Obama’s fault in one way or another (actually, I sort of agree with the idea that it was “Obama’s fault” – Obama had, if you squint just right, a chance to admit that Afghanistan was a hopeless tar baby and walk away; the next chance to declare Afghanization and go home – leaving a “decent interval” between the US/ISAF exit and the Taliban’s possibly/plausible victory – is probably at least one Administration away in the future, probably a couple of Administrations out, since the American casualty rate is still pretty low compared to Vietnam or peak Iraqi insurgency).

Probably something something about Mattis not being a team player or having been coopted by the dread swamp.

2) Re “ceding civilian control over war-making policy”, my response depends on what you (Rod) think is encompassed by “war-making policy”: the civilian leadership, if/when we have any, should definitely be on the hook for coming up with setting the overall exit strategy and telling the generals how much the nation is willing to pay in lives, treasure, and international accounts payable/receivable in furtherance of the goal set, then selling that strategy and price tag to the Congress and to the public, but I don’t particularly think it is useful for the civilian apparatus to decide e.g. how many units surge where and for how long, except and insofar as that sort of decision plays as part of a larger negotiation strategy.

It’s not that I don’t realize that “leaving it to the generals” will result in troops and noncombatants paying the price of the military leadership’s errors: it’s just that I have little reason think that a plausible under present conditions civilian alternative won’t be worse (cf McNamara and Rumsfeld, for example).

#9 Comment By John On June 14, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

As disheartening as it is I am not surprised at these recent developments. Trump’s first inclination was to support wars in the ME, his denials notwithstanding. He supported the war in Iraq before he campaigned against it, and he criticized Obama for backing away from his ill-conceived Red Libe in Syria before running on a campaign outsourced the war to Russia.

Even if he wasn’t the hawk I took him to be, Trump would have been talked into it by the staffers around him. The foreign policy establishment nearly always backs warss a means of resolving political disputes. Those military campaigns usually don’t work in the long term as they can only be resolved when the participants reach a political resolution to their ongoing disputes.

#10 Comment By jk On June 14, 2017 @ 9:56 pm

Is that some shutterstock photo?

#11 Comment By John_M On June 15, 2017 @ 1:25 am

I don’t see that we have a significant national interest in either Afghanistan or Syria. We have established that we can destroy in counter strikes, so I don’t see nations giving explicit cover to groups that are going to strike the US – because we can and will punish the host countries.

For a long time we had a strategic interest in the middle east due to our dependence upon oil from the region. A combination of fracking and increased efficiency in the US has reduced our dependence on the region. If we push both hard on both, we can afford to disengage from the region – and we particularly have no stake in the Sunni – Shia conflict between Iran and the Arab world.

#12 Comment By Charlieford On June 15, 2017 @ 10:57 am

Lindsey Graham’s all in.

“Failure in Afghanistan puts the American homeland at risk. Every soldier over there is an insurance policy against another 9/11, and this was a well thought out strategy. It will be unveiled over time. I am all in. He chose to give the generals the flexibility and the ability to defend this nation. I am really excited about what I heard.”

#13 Comment By collin On June 15, 2017 @ 12:49 pm

What hits me as crazy is how little Trump is involved at all here. DOD Secretary Mattis is easily the most competent and respected cabinet member but he really should have some kind of oversight of President of the goals and hopes of the troop levels. (He does not over-think decision that Obama used to do.)

Anyway at this rate, Afghanistan will be become the Puerto Rico of the future. First you keep them as a territory with troops for years and then they suddenly start voting to become a state. Just think over the last 6 years, PR has voted to become a state twice. (Given our current political climate this is ain’t happening. So by 2050 Afghanistan will vote to be the 52nd state under President Ivanka Trump.

#14 Comment By Janwaar Bibi On June 15, 2017 @ 2:31 pm

Afghanistan is a landlocked country bordered by Iran, Pakistan, China and a few of the -stans. So weapons and money flowing to the Taliban from outside must come through one or more of these countries.

Iran and China have their own problems with Sunni extremists, so they are unlikely to be funding the Taliban in any serious way. Ditto for the -stans.

That leaves one country – Pakistan – that is known to be providing safe havens for the Taliban (not to mention Al Qaeda), and that is responsible for most of the money and arms flowing into Afghanistan. Until this problem is addressed, nothing will change in Afghanistan.

The way to address the Pakistani problem is to work with the Chinese who have major economic interests there, and who are worried about Islamic extremism as well. We should also be working with the Iranians, who are deeply concerned about the fate of the Shia minority in Afghanistan is the Sunni Taliban gets into power, and of course with Russia.

Unfortunately, the swamp wants us to fight the Russians, and the neocons want us to attack Iran, so the required cooperation will not happen.

#15 Comment By Dr. Diprospan On June 15, 2017 @ 2:50 pm

It seems to me that the US appeared in Afghanistan’s quagmire during a difficult period for restoration in Russia and diverted the forces of radical Islamists.
If it were not for the United States, Russia would have to restrain the passionate warriors of Islam on its own.
In Afghanistan, as on the edge of a knife, the struggle takes place between conservatism and liberalism in a global sense. A strong state is an unacceptable liberalism for Afghanistan with its centuries-old tribal clan traditions. But the fragmentation and chaos of political trends can not be overcome without a strong state. Since these internal tendencies are approximately the same in strength, the Afghan peoples seek assistance from outside, turning to England, then to Pakistan, then to the US, to the Arab countries, to China, to Iran, to Russia… The more developed states from different motives begin to help strengthen the state in Afghanistan, and it comes into conflict with the conservative, ancient clan-communal tradition of local peoples.
The task simply does not have a quick solution.
Meanwhile, Minister of Defense of the Soviet Union D.Ustinov believed that the army must fight otherwise it will deteriorate like cars that stand in the garage and do not go.
Was he right or not you judge:

#16 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 15, 2017 @ 3:13 pm

Making the argument that the U.S. needs to invade, occupy and rule foreign nations to prevent foreign terrorism at home indicates the most absurd and illogical thinking there could possibly be.

Terrorism represents a counter tactic by opponents in war. Those who bring war to others as a strategy ought to realize that those they are fighting will seek to bring it to them.

The purposes of the wars are not spreading democracy or for humanitarian purposes. They are driven by the same purposes, for the same reasons, that all wars have been fought, for power and money and who gets to have them.

The dream of drone warfare by joystick, with only armchair combatants free from danger or consequence, is a delusion. Only if you can “kill them all” can you eliminate resistance to foreign occupation – and eventually the “all” will necessitate killing everyone on earth to achieve peace through violence.

#17 Comment By VikingLS On June 15, 2017 @ 4:23 pm

“Well Rod, I’ll give you credit for resisting Trump longer than the rest of them, but in the end, you couldn’t bring yourself to vote for he sane alternative.
It’s a shame, isn’t it?”

Answer me honestly, do you, in all seriousness, ACTUALLY believe that Clinton would have been willing to abandon Afghanistan?

You really think the first female president would have wanted to be the one that abandoned Afghan women to the Taliban?

That’s beyond absurd.

Anyway, Rod voting for Clinton would have simply been purely symbolic. There was no way she was winning Louisiana.

#18 Comment By VikingLS On June 15, 2017 @ 4:36 pm

On another note, Trump DID say we weren’t going to be doing more nation building if he was elected. It would be nice to know what he thinks we’re doing in Afghanistan. The Taliban aren’t a threat to us.

Of course that’s a question that a lot of Washington needs to answer.

#19 Comment By Noah172 On June 15, 2017 @ 5:17 pm

63 comments as I write this and only two, mine and Moderate Mom at 6/14 2:15, note that the story is unconfirmed. Only I mention the current troop level in Aghanistan (high four digits) and the size of the troop increase allegedly under discussion (low four digits), and compare it to what the situation was not so long ago under the previous administration (100k at peak).

Any escalation is a bad idea — that’s a Trump supporter writing — but can we discuss something once it happens, and with perspective, rather than the usual idiotic snark (“But her emails”) and hypocrisy (supporters of O’s surge criticizing Trump)?

#20 Comment By Tony D. On June 15, 2017 @ 5:33 pm

“Allowing Mattis, whom I trust, to determine what troop levels are required to achieve the goal strikes me as a good use of the General’s vastly greater experience in warfighting.”

Serious question: What goal?

#21 Comment By Potato On June 15, 2017 @ 7:09 pm

Oh and people who are going to get hurt the most by the repeal of the ACA, the never ending wars and the next banking crisis are the people who supported and voted for Trump.

So far as I can tell they’re OK with it if not affirmatively in favor of it, so who am I to argue?

#22 Comment By jk On June 15, 2017 @ 8:07 pm

Obama is infinitely superior to Trump. Trump is merely a dumber version of Hillary regarding Foreign Policy.

I wonder how the MAGA drinkers wrap their brains around this one…

#23 Comment By Tony D. On June 15, 2017 @ 8:56 pm

Lindsey Graham’s all in.

And that’s all anyone needs to hear to know something not good is being proposed…

#24 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 15, 2017 @ 10:06 pm

“Trump DID say we weren’t going to be doing more nation building if he was elected. It would be nice to know what he thinks we’re doing in Afghanistan.”

Nation wrecking?

#25 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 16, 2017 @ 1:32 am

There’s a legitimate kind of patriotism and nationalism consistent with Christian spirit. It’s different from the jingoistic kind that Mark Twain demurred from, which he said required that in order to express love for his own country, he was required to hate others’. The positive sort is expressed by love and service to those next to you, your neighbors, your countrymen. Doing your best for them doesn’t mean doing your worst to others. Rather love for neighbor extrapolates outwards, inclusively, expressing good will to those beyond as well, doing good the best policy for all.

Lincoln’s better angels whispered this into his ear: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, …let us strive on to finish the work we are in, …to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

And J.Q. Adams on what we ought, but are now not:

“America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights. She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit….

[America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.”

#26 Comment By muad’dib On June 16, 2017 @ 9:35 am

So far as I can tell they’re OK with it if not affirmatively in favor of it, so who am I to argue?

Someone who is likely to get hurt by their idiocy…

As much as I will enjoy watching them get their due deserts, the next financial crash these idiots will unleash will hurt me too. It’s also highly unlikely that the next war that these idiots unleash will hurt me directly, but the taxes that will need to be raised to pay for that pointless idiocy will likely come from my pocket.

#27 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 16, 2017 @ 10:14 am

So far as I can tell they’re OK with it if not affirmatively in favor of it, so who am I to argue?

This argument has the inherent weakness that any attempt to rigorously define who “they” is becomes incomprehensibly nebulous. (Noted by an Obama and Sanders voters who has considerable sympathy with those who held their noses and voted for Trump, even as I held my nose and voted for Hillary).

I also note that for the last few decades, many Americans have had the luxury of voting for conservative Republicans out of emotional identification or family sympathy because they KNEW the GOP wouldn’t dare actually dismantle a whole raft of funding streams these voters depend on. Now they’re going to see what its like when the GOP does what its been talking about… and they’re not going to like it. Of course it may take a new breed of modestly pro-life Democrats, or a well balanced third or fourth party, to really give them a voice.

Otherwise… what Fran Macadam said. All the way.

#28 Comment By the champ On June 16, 2017 @ 11:32 am

“Obama is infinitely superior to Trump.”

Yemen, Ukraine, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, the botched “Arab Spring” … hundreds of thousands dead, millions of refugees flooding Europe, Mexico turning into a failed state on his watch … “infinitely superior”?

“Trump is merely a dumber version of Hillary regarding Foreign Policy. “

Hang on, wasn’t it Obama who HIRED Hillary Clinton?

Between failing to close Gitmo, failing to end any of the wars he promised to end or leave any of the countries he promised to leave, multiplying the wars of G. W. Bush, institutionalizing NSA warrantless surveillance (and failing to rein in corporate surveillance of Americans) that started under G. W. Bush, Obama is surely the worst president we ever had, having easily beaten out G. W. Bush for the title. These were grotesque, pointless failures and attacks on basic civil liberties – 8-16 years AFTER 9/11. The damage was inestimable.

Trump may well turn out to be even worse than Obama, and he’s starting to look like a contender, but he’s got a very long way to go before he can even approach the level of damage Obama did.

#29 Comment By Hound of Ulster On June 16, 2017 @ 12:38 pm

I guess the U.S. will be the latest empire to bury itself in the high desert of Afghanistan.

Everyone who has been commenting on the pernicious role of the House of Saud in all of this has been on point. I will add that Trump loves him some Saudi money as well.

If you want to break Al Qaeda et al, you must break the Saudi power. You already have a candidate for the throne: King Abdullah of Jordan’s house are the long-standing rules of the Hejaz, going back nearly 1000 years. The Saudi are a bunch of camel thieves from the desert around Riyadh who got lucky, along with a bit of help from the treacherous St. John Philby (father of the infamous Kim Philby of the Cambridge Five). British imperial shenanigans cast a long shadow.

#30 Comment By Daniel (not Larrison) On June 16, 2017 @ 6:23 pm

Hound of Ulster wrote:

If you want to break Al Qaeda et al, you must break the Saudi power. You already have a candidate for the throne: King Abdullah of Jordan’s house are the long-standing rules of the Hejaz, going back nearly 1000 years. The Saudi are a bunch of camel thieves from the desert around Riyadh who got lucky, along with a bit of help from the treacherous St. John Philby (father of the infamous Kim Philby of the Cambridge Five). British imperial shenanigans cast a long shadow.

I also agree that Jordan’s Hashamite line is the legitamate one, and would love to see Abdullah as King over the Arabian pennisula. But I don’t see that happening soon, and I would be strongly against putting any outside pressure on the Arabs on this matter…they’ll have to do it themselves.

Still, we can dream.

#31 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 16, 2017 @ 9:07 pm

Hang on, wasn’t it Obama who HIRED Hillary Clinton?

That was indeed one of his worst mistakes and biggest betrayals, along with relying on the likes of Geithner and Summers.

Barack Obama was enamored of Abraham Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals.” What he missed is that Lincoln headed a newly formed party made up of disparate factions pushing each other with a good deal of centrifugal force. He had to hold this together long enough for some semblance of a party to coalesce, and meantime govern a country, in the midst, as it turned out, of a civil war.

Barack Obama’s party may have fit Will Rogers’ definition, but it did not need to be pulled together, it needed to by picked up and pulled apart and rearranged.That’s what he got the nomination for, rather than Hillary Clinton.

#32 Comment By VikingLS On June 16, 2017 @ 10:15 pm

“If you want to break Al Qaeda et al, you must break the Saudi power.”

If you want to hand Saudi over to Al Queda or ISIS, unseat the house of Saud.

#33 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 17, 2017 @ 7:38 pm

“If you want to break Al Qaeda et al, you must break the Saudi power.”

If you want to hand Saudi over to Al Queda or ISIS, unseat the house of Saud.

One of the paradoxes of politics, and history, is that both statements are arguably true.

#34 Comment By Ex CFR On June 19, 2017 @ 9:25 am

“Hey guys! I’ve got a wizard idea! Let’s send 4000 soldiers back into Afghanistan, encourage the Saudis to menace Qatar, alienate Turkey, impose new sanctions on Iran, and start shooting down Syrian government aircraft – over Syrian territory! All at the same time! Why not, huh? That idiot in the White House gave me the car keys! Let’s go for a ride!!!

James “The Adult In the Room” Mattis
Secretary of Defense

June 2017

#35 Comment By Charlieford On June 20, 2017 @ 1:54 pm

An Afghan-surge a day keeps the private server away.

Priorities, people. Priorities.