Despite tough talk, Trump approach on Afghanistan is no different than 2009.

By Mark Perry
August 22, 2017
The American Conservative

President Donald Trump walks with U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Michael Howard, commander of Joint Force Headquarters, at Arlington National Cemetery, May 29, 2017. Behind them are Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Flickr/CreativeCommons/DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

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, 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 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. “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.!”

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