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Trump’s Awful Afghanistan Speech

Reading over the text [1] of Trump’s Afghanistan speech, I was struck by his easy acceptance of the conventional hawkish view that withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 was a mistake that shouldn’t be repeated elsewhere:

And, as we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq. As a result, our hard-won gains slipped back into the hands of terrorist enemies. Our soldiers watched as cities they had fought for, and bled to liberate, and won, were occupied by a terrorist group called ISIS. The vacuum we created by leaving too soon gave safe haven for ISIS to spread, to grow, recruit, and launch attacks. We cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq.

This convenient bit of revisionism omits several important things. First, most Iraqis didn’t want a continued U.S. presence in Iraq. Second, the U.S. could not secure a new Stats of Forces Agreement that gave American forces legal immunity, and it was politically impossible for Iraqi leaders to agree to such a condition after eight years of occupation. Finally, a U.S. residual force would not have been enough to stop any of the things that happened in the years that followed, and their presence would have very likely triggered a new insurgency against them. Withdrawing from Iraq wasn’t a mistake. It was a necessary first step in extricating the U.S. from its entanglements in the region.

Unless the U.S. intends to make Afghanistan its permanent ward and wishes to be at war there forever, there is no compelling reason for a continued American military presence. Nothing in Trump’s speech provided such a reason. He embraced the sunk cost fallacy (“our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made”), and ignored that throwing away more lives on a failed war is far worse than cutting our losses. He indulged the safe haven myth, according to which the U.S. must police countries on the other side of the earth without end for fear that they might give shelter to terrorists if we do not. These are all very familiar and cliched assumptions by now, and they are wrong. We can’t rationally weigh costs and benefits of a war that can’t end unless it somehow redeems the losses already suffered, and Afghanistan is never going to be made secure enough at an acceptable cost to eliminate the possibility that some part of its territory might play host to jihadists. Trump calls his approach “principled realism,” but as usual it is neither principled nor realist.

Trump defined the mission as “killing terrorists,” which practically guarantees that more terrorists will be created in the process and ensures that the mission will never end. There have been higher numbers of civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria since Trump took office, and Trump’s statement that he “lifted restrictions the previous administration placed on our warfighters” promises that the same will happen in Afghanistan. He also made a rather alarming statement, saying “that no place is beyond the reach of American might and Americans arms.” That reflects a potentially very dangerous contempt for the sovereignty of other states that could easily blow up in our faces.

Trump typically dressed up his lack of a discernible strategy as a cunning ruse: “America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.” Of course, people living in their own part of the world can always “wait us out.” It is the height of hubris and stupidity to think we can outlast them. His assertion that the U.S. will integrate “all instruments of American power — diplomatic, economic, and military — toward a successful outcome” isn’t credible when his administration is presiding over the gutting and wrecking of the State Department.

Trump defined victory as “attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.” Based on this definition, victory is not possible at an acceptable cost. The preoccupation with “winning” an unwinnable war just dooms the U.S. to fight there for decades to come. If we can’t admit failure after sixteen years of it, when will we?

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18 Comments To "Trump’s Awful Afghanistan Speech"

#1 Comment By Chris Chuba On August 22, 2017 @ 8:37 am

Neocon / liberal interventionists build their houses on myths.

While we know that Iraq was a house of cards, how do we know that things would have turned out better had we left 10,000 troops behind? Yet, this is accepted as a fact. Had we done this, the rot of the Maliki govt would have continued even longer. Had this delayed ISIS, when they struck, the house of cards would have collapsed with even greater force making the situation irreversible.

Gen. Jack Keane even added yet another myth, the only reason the surge in Afghanistan failed was because Obama revealed the time table allowing the Taliban to ‘wait it out’. I’ll grant that it is not wise to give specific dates but by definition a ‘surge’ is transient. By simply calling it a surge, the Taliban knows they can wait it out so even that is a very minor detail that did not influence the facts on the ground.

#2 Comment By Uncle Skippy On August 22, 2017 @ 9:33 am

How long before Afghanistan become the 51st state of the USA?

#3 Comment By Johann On August 22, 2017 @ 9:52 am

The neoliberal/neocons are all happy now. The money will keep rolling into the MIC, their lobbyists, and their politicians. They are looking forward to another 16 years of profits.

Now if they could just get Trump to give up his opposition to third world immigration and continue the flow of future democrat voters and continue the global economic policies so the rich continue to get richer and the poor poorer. What’s not to like? Even the established media loves it. That should be a red flag to all.

#4 Comment By Janwaar Bibi On August 22, 2017 @ 9:59 am

It may be useful to classify enemies the way we classify diseases. There are diseases that will kill you if they are not eliminated completely, such as cancer. There are diseases that just need to be treated with medication but for which there is no cure, such as diabetes. And there are diseases that are inconvenient but can be ignored, like the common cold.

Afghanistan is a disease that can be ignored, and if it flares up again, it can be treated with medication. It is not a life-threatening disease, unlike Communism, Nazism or Islamism.

#5 Comment By Johann On August 22, 2017 @ 10:02 am

What the neoliberal/neocons really want is control of the world militarily, culturally, and economically. They seek hegemony.

Leaving Afghanistan would result in a gaping hole in a large part of the world. That is unacceptable to them. But the Taliban has no plans to invade us. We could leave and tell the Taliban we don’t even care if you take back the Afghan government as long as you don’t let organizations back in who do want to attack us. If you do, then we will be back to destroy those groups and remove you from power again.

And then we could and should leave again. Its really easy to remove from power a government of a third world country, but very hard to control all of the hinterlands, especially a large mountainous country like Afghanistan. Its the opposite with civilized countries. When will they ever learn?

#6 Comment By Will You Hold This For Me, Please? On August 22, 2017 @ 10:28 am

Trump is easily played. His drive to win is only exceeded by his terror of losing, or rather of being seen to lose. So you just threaten him with being seen as a loser. All the generals had to do was conjure images of the evacuation of Saigon, and they’d get their little surge.

The generals got what they wanted, which was to pass the eventual and inevitable defeat off to another set of generals.

#7 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 22, 2017 @ 10:29 am

“conventional hawkish view that withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 was a mistake that shouldn’t be repeated elsewhere . . . ”

The assessments about the role of the Afghanistan in the 9/11 attacks was overplayed. I agree that our departure is not why we lost. We lost the minute we invaded. However our departure predicated on agreed upon time table was problematic. That it ignored what was happening in the country as to the factions. Again our promise of democracy made our accountability higher. Since our troops didn’t occupy the territory anyway, perhaps it doesn’t matter that we left so soon. But our departure ensured a worsening of conflicts and retribution, not to mention the marriage between Iran and Ira that has been taking place. (I realize that marriage may be a bit strong). Which is not a problem so much for the US as for the Sunnis, Kurds christians and others that remain in Iraq.

Again, trying to determine Taliban and other players and who are terrorists in Afghanistahn is going to be a tough slog. As I understand it Afghanistahn is a civil war. The Taliban themselves have lived as regional authorities that come together for common cause but generally are not legally bound to one another.

I am unfamiliar with the efforts that the government established via the US has actually engaged in conversations with the vast array of regional players to be part of the governance we seek to establish. Though there are some serious doubts whether that is any our business.

As for any discussion about time lines it’s a might short on historical accuracy. The Afgahn fighters have been waiting out intruders for hundreds of years, timeline or not.

I am not sure what to make of the Pakistan gambit. I was unaware that Pakistan an ally when the Soviets occupied the country in question, objected to the government in Afghanistan and was supporting their ouster.

Peculiar that.

As for private contractors, that between the government of Afghanistan and the contractors in my view. I am ignoring the use of US dollars and equipment that might pose a problem in legitimate private business.

#8 Comment By Tom Terrific On August 22, 2017 @ 10:30 am

Any US president, whatever his intentions, comes under serious pressure from a certain lobby immediately upon entering office. Everyone knows what lobby – what industrial “sector” – that is, but almost no one ever wants to talk about it. So if Trump came in promising to end America’s rampant foreign military interventionism and policy of constant, total war, he soon got hit in the face with the two-by-four of American economic reality.

What happens to the share prices of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Boeing et al if there is a protracted period of no war? Surely not selling hardware to the Pentagon (the taxpayer supported client of choice) must put a big dent in stock value, even if it doesn’t wipe it out completely. So little countries like North Korea are hyped as global threats. Iran is an imminent danger to the US. Even Syria is an unfathomable evil. And when these clapped-out dumps are gone, it’s on to the next threat, and the next, and the next, until finally America is declaring war on traditional allies because no one else even has an armed forces to demonize.

It can’t end either, not without an giant asteroid hitting Earth and putting these companies out of business forever. The war culture will continue to traumatize American society, with more veteran suicides, more deaths from drug overdoses, more alienation of individuals and more degradation of American communities. So anyone who’s not willing to talk about it should just kick back and watch it all on TV. It’s hell. It will go on until the Apocalypse. Get used to it.

#9 Comment By Juju Beans On August 22, 2017 @ 11:58 am

Well just look at that tangerine-tinted fool, folks … a flipping, flopping con artist and sexual deviant who dodged the draft is sending REAL Americans to Afghanistan to help the con artist’s popularity amongst old, angry white supremacists.

Predictably, the spoiled brat President is making Americans die for no reason again.

#10 Comment By One Man On August 22, 2017 @ 12:15 pm

“I know more than the generals, but I do what they tell me to do.”

#11 Comment By Anthony Gregory On August 22, 2017 @ 2:13 pm

Regime chance comments aside, Trump was entirely consistent during the campaign in condemning Obama for withdrawing from Iraq. How did he get a traditionally hawkish party to back him? By criticizing the Dems for being soft.

#12 Comment By collin On August 22, 2017 @ 2:52 pm

I think future Lisa Simpson was right that at this point we are going to be in Afghanistan so long that by 2050 they will become the 51st state.

I think the issue here is the competent Generals worn short attention span Trump down and the only other alternatives were really bad and hawkish Erik Prince Blackwater proposals. (And what the hell was Rex Tillerson input.)

#13 Comment By Ollie On August 22, 2017 @ 8:22 pm

What of the poppies and the oxycodon and the oxycontin. Would Trump keep the poppies for us the way he would keep the oil for us? He’s always thinking of us, isn’t he ? Oh please tell me he is or I will be just so disillusioned !

#14 Comment By Magnolia On August 22, 2017 @ 9:16 pm

Killing terrorists in Afghanistan in 2017 sounds a lot like the body counts in Vietnam. All the Taliban has to do is last one day longer than us.

#15 Comment By Hexexis On August 22, 2017 @ 11:58 pm

“Since our troops didn’t occupy the territory anyway”

What? Occupation began on the day of “mission accomplished.” No one intended it, but I can recall a quote from then-LtGen Conway, that later when our selected new leader for Iraq, Mr. Chalabi, got the cold shoulder from Iraqis, Conway “knew we were it in for the long haul.”

#16 Comment By so over On August 23, 2017 @ 9:43 am

“Of course, people living in their own part of the world can always “wait us out.” It is the height of hubris and stupidity to think we can outlast them. “

Yes. Trump’s stupidity is appalling. He is living proof that business smarts, show biz smarts, and “New Yawk” smarts don’t mean s*** when it comes to the Presidency and running America. All that confidence, all that attitude, all that “out of the way and I’ll show you how it’s done” – all of it was empty, worthless crap. He’s now actually aping Obama and Hillary’s foreign policy, pushing us back into all the stupid mistakes made by Bush II, Obama, and Hillary, because he’s too stupid and cowardly to do what he promised us, which was to beat ISIS and get us out of there.

He’s pathetic.

What a mess. What an incredible, bloody mess.

#17 Comment By rick On August 23, 2017 @ 10:16 am

We always talk about what happened after our “withdrawing” from Iraq. Never mind the violence that raged right under our noses when we had 100,000 plus troops in that country. The ethnic cleansing happened well before 2011.

#18 Comment By Eileen Kuch On August 23, 2017 @ 5:21 pm

You’re absolutely right, Trump’s stupidity is truly appalling, to say the least. He’s living proof that business smarts, show biz smarts, and “New York” smarts don’t mean s*** when it comes to the Presidency and running America. I agree that all that confidence, all that attitude, all that “out of the way and I’ll show you how it’s done” – all of it was empty, worthless BS. As you said, he’s now actually aping Obama and Hillary’s foreign policy, pushing us back into all the stupid mistakes made by Bush II, Obama and Hillary, because he’s too stupid and cowardly to do what he promised us, which was to beat ISIS and get out of there. Yes, indeed, he’s totally pathetic.