Steve's Blog

Is President Trump Making the Right Call on Afghanistan?

Before he became President, Donald Trump had a pretty strong opinion about whether the U.S. should stay or pull out in Afghanistan, and he wasn’t shy about expressing his view. Here’s a smattering of what he had to say, and not surprisingly, he usually expressed his view by means of tweeting.

-“Let’s get out of Afghanistan.” January 11, 2013
-“I agree with President Obama on Afghanistan. We should have a speedy withdrawal. Why should we keep wasting our money there…” January 14, 2013
-“We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan… let’s get out.” November 21, 2013

There are a lot more quotes like these, but in the interest of time, you get the picture.

But Donald Trump is no longer Candidate Trump – he’s now President Trump. And what might be a crowd pleaser at a campaign rally, especially with respect to foreign policy, isn’t necessarily in the best interest of the nation.

For example, let’s look at Barack Obama and Iraq. By the time Obama was running for President in 2008 against John McCain, the American people (at least a whole lot of them) had grown weary and frustrated with U.S. involvement in Iraq. Candidate Obama made a campaign promise, that if elected, he would pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq – ASAP. Well he got elected, and against the advice of many top military experts, DID pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq, in very short order. The result? Disaster. The loss of virtually all gains we’d made there – (bought at such a high price in American blood and treasure.) ISIS. The rapid spread of terror in the region and around the globe. Chaos. Bloodshed. Death.

Similarly, Donald Trump had a choice to make. He could keep a campaign promise, and pull us out of Afghanistan. Or he could accept the inevitable criticism, that he was breaking a campaign promise, and do the right thing. He chose to do the right thing – for the country, and for freedom-loving people across the globe.

President Trump announced his new strategy for Afghanistan two nights ago, at Ft. Myer in Arlington, Virginia. In my opinion, it was one of the most effective, and important, speeches he’s given as President. He began by making a reference to the recent ugliness in Charlottesville, saying that there must be no tolerance for bigotry and hate in America, and that the men and women who wear the uniform, and fight for us around the globe, “deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself. We cannot remain a force for peace in the world, if we are not at peace with each other.” It was a strong, powerful message, and it needed to be said.

Trump then acknowledged that his “original instinct was to pull out” of Afghanistan. But after meeting with those whose expertise and judgement he respects, and giving full consideration to the issue himself, he’d decided that the consequences of pulling out were both “predictable and unacceptable.” He specifically referred to the too precipitous withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and the disastrous results.

So what are the specifics of the Trump plan for winning in Afghanistan – the timetable, the troop levels, etc? He didn’t give them to us (or to the enemy.) And that’s part of the plan. Don’t telegraph to the enemy ahead of time what you’re going to do. Keep them off-guard; guessing.

President Obama famously failed, by doing just the opposite. Even when Obama (in my opinion) made the right decision, to “surge” the number of troops in Afghanistan, as President Bush had successfully done in Iraq, he undermined his military people by cutting their minimum number recommendation by 25%, then announced to the world that he’d start pulling those troops out in 15 months, whether we’d made any progress or not. Obama doomed the mission from the outset.

Trump promised not only to keep the enemy guessing, but to unshackle our military leaders, and our troops, so they can do whatever’s necessary to win. No more too-restrictive rules of engagement – no more micromanaging our war fighters. And rather than being time-based (how long we’re staying) Trump will focus on conditions on the ground (is what we’re doing working?)

I guess it’s pretty obvious that I think President Trump’s new strategy IS the right way to go. However, three caveats. President Trump said our new policy is killing terrorists, not nation-building. And there’s no question that the term “nation-building” is one that has nowadays fallen into a category that is easily, and almost universally, disparaged. But the reality is that some elements of nation-building are likely to be a part of the Trump plan in Afghanistan, even if we don’t call them that.

Another caveat – President Trump stated that other countries in the region are key to our success in Afghanistan – Pakistan and India in particular. And he’s right. However, I have a high degree of skepticism that we’ll have much success in getting their cooperation – particularly Pakistan. I hope I’m wrong.

 

And my third caveat – President Trump stated that “someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban…” I’m afraid this may well be wishful thinking, a false hope, a pipedream, pie in the sky, a castle in the air, pick your metaphor. The Taliban are a bunch of hardcore, women-hating, murderous thugs, who I find it hard to believe can ever seriously be negotiated with. Again, I hope I’m wrong.

But, overall, I think our President has come up with a very credible plan for pulling victory out of the jaws of defeat in Afghanistan. It is a well-thought-out plan of action, under extremely challenging circumstances. As a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I intend to support President Trump, our military leaders, and especially our men and women on the ground, to achieve success in Afghanistan.

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