Home/Daniel Larison/The Many Flaws of Trump’s Afghanistan ‘Strategy’

The Many Flaws of Trump’s Afghanistan ‘Strategy’

There were a few other problems with the Afghanistan speech that I didn’t address in my previous post. One of these was Trump’s conceit that he was eschewing nation-building while endorsing a policy of propping up a weak foreign government indefinitely. This was related to the absurd claim that “American strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia will change dramatically” while offering only the vaguest outline of a strategy that seems virtually indistinguishable from that of Trump’s predecessors. We are supposed to believe that there is dramatic change when there is almost total continuity with the failed policy Trump inherited, and we are supposed to accept that the U.S. isn’t going down the same fruitless path it has been traveling for a decade and a half.

Another problem was the thinly-veiled threat against Pakistan:

Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists.

There is no question that Pakistan is an unreliable partner, but it isn’t likely to be made more reliable or cooperative by issuing threats and saying that the U.S. is aligning with India against them. Trump is in the habit of making demands of other states while threatening dire consequences if they fail to comply, but as we have seen this has only made the other states more intransigent. Encouraging India to play a larger role in Afghanistan is bound to alarm Pakistan’s military and political leaders, and that doesn’t bode well for reducing their support for militant groups.

One other problem is the delusion that sending more American forces to Afghanistan will prompt other states to do likewise:

We will ask our NATO allies and global partners to support our new strategy with additional troop and funding increases in line with our own. We are confident they will.

I have no idea where this confidence comes from, since U.S. allies have been steadily reducing or ending their involvement in Afghanistan for years. There is no chance that NATO members are going to be able to justify returning to Afghanistan once they have already left, and the few that are still there in small numbers aren’t likely to be sending any more soldiers. Our allies and other partners aren’t obliged to contribute more to what is now a war of choice for the U.S., and there would be strong political opposition in most allied countries to doing so. Trump’s fantasy that he has been already successful in cajoling allies to contribute more to their own defense is all the more ridiculous in this context. Considering Trump’s ineptitude in alliance management, there is no reason to think that NATO and other governments will commit anything to support Trump’s escalation. The administration likes to claim that their foreign policy is not one of “America alone,” but when it comes to escalating the war in Afghanistan alone is exactly what the U.S. will be.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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