Trump on Afghanistan: More of the Same

Trump on Afghanistan: More of the Same, by Srdja Trifkovic.

President Donald Trump’s address to the nation on Afghanistan was carefully crafted and well delivered. It did not provide a blueprint for winning the war, however, which remains his stated objective.

Trump has settled for a compromise between all-out escalation, advocated by some of his generals, and the disengagement he had favored on the campaign trail. His approach, based on the doctrine of “principled realism” — seeing the world as it is, not seeking to remake it — in this case is likely to result in an open-ended continuation of the Afghan stalemate.

Trump is aware that the nation is tired of the longest war in American history: “I share the American people’s frustration. I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money, and most importantly lives, trying to rebuild countries in our own image, instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations.”

He frankly admitted that he has changed his mind: “My original instinct was to pull out — and, historically, I like following my instincts,” but “decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office . . . ”

His explanation for the shift sounded reasonable: we should “seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made,” while the consequences of a rapid exit “would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al-Qaeda, would instantly fill.” He invoked Obama’s “hasty and mistaken” withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, and pledged not to repeat that error.

So the war is to prevent terrorists using Afghanistan as a base for attacking the West in the name of Islam. Sort of an offensive maneuver motivated by defense, like the crusades.

The best part of Trump’s address — potentially the most important segment in geostrategic terms — was his warning to the authorities in Islamabad that they cannot run with the hares and hunt with the hounds for ever. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” Trump said. “But that will have to change, and that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace.” …

Pakistan is an enormous Jihadi campus in which some ten thousand madrassas prepare over one million students for the Holy War. It can hardly be otherwise in a country founded on the pillars of Islamic orthodoxy. It is the worst violator of the ban on nuclear proliferation. For as long as the country’s Islamic character is explicitly upheld, Pakistan cannot reform itself without undermining the religious rationale for its very existence. …

This is a distinct change in policy:

Another noteworthy point was Trump’s reiteration that he would not revert to democracy-promotion in distant countries of which we know little: “We are a partner and a friend, but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live, or how to govern their own complex society. We are not nation-building again . . . [W]e will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands, or try to rebuild other countries in our own image. Those days are now over.” Let us hope so; but the Deep State may yet beg to differ.

Sooner or later, Afghanistan should be allowed to revert to its usual state of Hobbesian pre-modernity. The war there is unwinnable. The lessons, not only of the Soviet intervention which started on Christmas Day 1979, but also of the British intervention known as the First Afghan War (1839-1842), should be Trump’s guide for the future

hat-tip Stephen Neil