I had to take a few days to reflect on President Trumps Afghanistan speech. There were parts of the speech I liked a lot and other parts that still left questions. One of the first issues is did Trump flip flop? He had on numerous occasions in the past stated we need to leave Afghanistan. But then I’ve said the same thing. My position was that if we aren’t going to actually fight then let’s leave. The people of Afghanistan are too tribal and corrupt to create and run a competent central government. It’s in the culture. If on the other hand, our primary purpose is to kill terrorists than Afghanistan is in the heart of the enemy and has prime real estate to launch attacks from.
When President Trump came into office one of the first items on his agenda was to have the “Generals” review the Afghanistan strategy. This was the correct thing to do. President Trump does not have military experience and asking for a complete review and new plan was the right move.
Our previous plans for building the central democracy and not killing terrorist was flawed. Not only was it impractical with the culture of the region but we didn’t actually enforce democratic rules or fight the obvious corruption (see poppy eradication plan- a complete lie – fact the Taliban are the only ones willing to eradicate). We made so many compromises to our democratic ideals and rule of law that what resulted resembles neither democracy nor a competent dictatorship. It is just chaos.
Trump’s cabinet completed the review and presented the conclusion recently at Camp David. Trump makes the point that campaigning and being in office is different. This is a lesson many learn however it should not necessarily change their views unless solid evidence is produced. This review many have had that information.
Trump points out that like Iraq, should we just up and leave, a vacuum would be created most likely filled by terrorists. This would only lead to us returning at a later date after Al-Qaeda, ISIS or some other radical Islamic group has had time to build a foundation for its organization again. This is most likely true but could we not just bomb them once they congregate at their bases? We could but would we? That hasn’t really been done since 2002.
President Trump also stated that the US will not announce its intentions prior to operations. This is a great point. Something President Obama was clueless about. You can’t set a time table or pre-determined troop strength without regards to the needs on the ground. The Taliban are regressive but not dumb. They understand the waiting game and can hit and run till your timetable runs out. Trump left open the possibility of talking with the Taliban but not at this time. You must wait till they are softened up and hurting before we talk. They will be ready. If this policy is carried out the Taliban may beg to be at the table one day.
Then there is Pakistan. Trump’s words on Pakistan have been a long time coming. Pakistan has taken millions or more and we watched as insurgents ran back across the border with impunity. Pakistan has been playing to both sides since the beginning yet we have been too weak to confront them in any meaningful way. If Trump is willing to put real pressure on Pakistan I’m all for that.
The lifting of the restrictive ROE sounds encouraging also. Although it’s not clear just what the new ROE is. This has been a sore spot for many in the military again since the beginning. While there have been times when the ROE was less restrictive as soon as progress was made the handcuffs went right back on. The ground commander must have the authority to run his campaign. If he fails then fire him but give him an opportunity to win.
Finally we get to another potential big issue. Nation building. According to President Trump we will no longer use American military might to construct democracies. This is a good point. I’m not opposed to building democracies that are trying and have the basic culture where democracy is possible but for the most part in South West Asia you must be willing to take complete control of the country as we did in Germany or Japan. Run the institutions ourselves until they get the concept then leave. This may take decades that I would bet Americans wouldn’t be up for. So lets just stay away from nation building.
Overall I liked the speech but talk is cheap and we will have to wait and see. I, like most people don’t have a complete or even good answer for Afghanistan. But if we are there let our people fight.