Just watched the speech and, really, it will take some time for everyone to figure out all the details, but I’ll say this: in war, there is no substitute for victory. Trump has set himself a stern test: Victory.
Now, can he get that? Yes, if you understand:
1. A victory doesn’t mean a liberal democracy in Afghanistan. It will be an authortarian regime with a thin veneer of democratic process. It will still be very Islamic and they’ll do a lot of things we don’t like.
2. A victory does mean an Afghan government in control of more than 90% of Afghan territory and able to defend itself without US ground forces.
3. A victory does mean that the Afghan government which emerges includes some elements currently aligned with the Taliban – in other words, people brought over to our side by the stick of massive military force and the carrot of being able to sit high on the hog if they come over in a timely manner.
4. In the geo-political game of that area, if the Afghan government is broadly aligned with us rather than, say, Iran or Pakistan, then that is victory.
I think this can be done – the gloves are off our military and they’ll have the ability to hit hard at the enemy. And if we do it convincingly enough, then the Afghans, themselves, will cease their whining about US military actions…they’ve only done that over the past years because they were worried we’d leave them in the lurch and at the tender mercies of the Taliban. Convince them that we’re the toughest guys and we will win, and all of a sudden everyone who wants to live will be on our side.
This is a harsh business – and there’s no solution which is 100% in line with what our American preferences would be. But we can get a victory – and then get out. We’ll see, now, if Trump can deliver.
There was just a small chance at the end of 2008 that our effort in Iraq would work. By extreme exertions we had mostly pacified the nation and with a bit of luck and more hard work, Iraq might have slowly developed into a pluralist democracy, thus providing a both a bulwark against extremism and a model for the rest of the long-suffering people of the Middle East. It did not, however, work out like that. Rather than keep a presence in Iraq, we withdrew all our forces and essentially left Iraq to its own devices. Power does abhor a vacuum and as we weren’t there and the Iraqis weren’t quite up to the task, other powers started flowing into Iraq. Now we see the result of that – a clash which is now really more between some people who want to create a Caliphate without reference to the existence of Iraq as a nation, and the Iranians who are bound and determined to keep control of as much Iraqi territory as possible, also without reference to the existence of Iraq as a nation. Those in Iraq who would prefer neither Iranian nor Caliphate domination are squeezed between the two and will simply have to choose which evil they think is lesser.
At the end of 2008, Afghanistan was seeing an upsurge in trouble as the Islamist effort in Iraq was beaten back and Afghanistan became the only place an Islamist could fight the United States. In the 2008 campaign, Obama told the American people that Iraq was the distraction, but that Afghanistan was the war we had to fight. This is why we cut out of Iraq and then surged into Afghanistan. Not with the number of troops recommended by senior military leaders and while giving a time frame for our withdrawal, thus allowing the enemy to know how long they had to endure before we quit – but, still, the effort was made in accordance with Obama’s oft-stated premise that we had to fight the war in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, it also didn’t work out. The enemy knew we weren’t there forever and continual restrictions upon the ability of our forces to conduct the sort of brutal war necessary to defeat the Islamist forces made certain that victory wasn’t possible. Meanwhile, the Afghan government descended into ever worse corruption and clearly started making arrangements for what would happen after the United States departed – mostly in terms of giving power to those who were fighting against us.
After all is said and done, whatever we were hoping to accomplish by going into Afghanistan and Iraq has proven a failure. For you liberals out there who are of the opinion that killing bin Laden was key and winning in Afghanistan was right because Obama said so: you were wrong. For us conservatives who believed that we could build a democratic, Muslim nation: we were wrong. For those on the left who want to harp upon circa-2004 BUSH LIED!!!!1!! memes; just shut up and go away. Seriously – no one wants to hear that nonsense any longer. However one felt about the efforts, they have clearly failed and now it is time to re-assess our policies.