Everybody who voted for Donald Trump hoping that he would reduce the US military’s involvement in foreign wars has been made a fool of. I’m sorry, but there it is. Last night’s announcement by the president that he’s going to send more troops to Afghanistan — he mentioned no numbers, but his staff has been telling lawmakers around 4,000 — is a betrayal.
Earlier this year, the president gave the Pentagon authority to send more troops into Iraq and Syria. He has deepened our involvement on the Saudi side of the Yemen war. And now we’re going back into Afghanistan.
The New York Times has a story out today about how the generals talked Trump into doing the Afghanistan surge. Excerpts:
President Trump’s skepticism about America’s involvement in Afghanistan was no secret to his staff. But his top national security officials were still taken aback at a meeting in the Situation Room on July 19, when an angry Mr. Trump began ripping apart their latest proposal to send thousands of additional American troops to the country.
“We’re losing,” the president declared, according to a person who was in the room. The plan, he complained, was vague and open-ended, with no definition of victory. “What does success look like?” he asked.
The day before that meeting, Mr. Trump had invited four soldiers who had served in Afghanistan to the White House for lunch. His exchanges with these enlisted men, an official said, left him sober about the prospects for turning around a war that has dragged on for nearly 16 years. He showed up the next day determined to ask hard questions.
Then the generals — all of whom had Afghan experience — got to work on him. More:
Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, worried that the generals were leading the president down the same path as Mr. Obama, who felt boxed in by his generals in 2009, his first year in office, when he agreed to send 30,000 additional troops. Mr. Bannon questioned why an additional 4,000 troops would fix the situation.
“For 16 years, from neocons to progressives to Obama’s people, they all thought they were making great decisions,” Mr. Bannon said, according to a person in the room. “Why are we any smarter than they are?’’
At a meeting of the National Security Council’s principals committee, he clashed with General McMaster, who had taken the lead in developing the policy. Their relationship deteriorated, and Mr. Bannon became General McMaster’s biggest in-house nemesis.
Bannon is gone. More troops are going into Afghanistan. And here we are. I would love to know what those four enlisted men told the Commander in Chief.
Even if you elected a Buddhist monk who set himself on fire to protest war as POTUS, his NSA could get a little troop surge out of him
— Michael B Dougherty🍃 (@michaelbd) August 22, 2017
UPDATE: James Fallows:
Donald Trump as a candidate was hard over on the “don’t fight unwinnable wars” front. It was the most refreshing thing about him. Now he claims to have reflected, with his new responsibilities as president (and now without Steve Bannon at his side), on the arguments he had disdained before, and has come up with what Richard Nixon long ago would have called a “secret plan” for Afghanistan.
- He won’t say how many more troops he’s sending. (A stance that, with the kind of checks-and-balances Congress that a democracy depends on, or with a non-chickenhawk public exposed to the consequences of military commitments, he couldn’t get away with.)
- He won’t say what will constitute “victory” or an end point, in what he emphasized was already America’s longest war.
- Except for bromides, he won’t say why this new approach will work, when its predecessors for 16 years have failed. (The main bromide is: “We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.” This is an argument against George W. Bush’s ambitious and Wilsonian inaugural speech in 2005. It is more or less in sync with what Obama was doing.)
- He can’t say how the policy he’s proposing matches the staffing and budget he has put together. Tonight Trump said: “Another fundamental pillar of our new [sic] strategy is the integration of all instruments of American power—diplomatic, economic, and military—toward a successful outcome.” Both George W. Bush and Obama expounded exactly the same goal. The difference is that both of them backed it up with staffing plans and budgets. (Barack Obama had the redoubtable Richard Holbrooke as his Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Trump is dismantling the office, and of course most of his embassies and State Department posts stand vacant.)
It’s like any of the speeches that other politicians could have given about Afghanistan, which the pre-presidential Trump ridiculed for having no end point or concept of victory.
He was right then.