Afghan-a-worms

This week President Trump announced his administration’s policy on future military involvement in Afghanistan. Since this is all just starting to fall into place, it’s impossible to know how his plan will work out.

However, based on the way things have gone for outsiders in Afghanistan over the past centuries, our chances for creating a brand new day for Afghanistan aren’t terribly bright. Then again, the President isn’t shooting for that. – And for the first time since Donald Trump was elected, I think I sort of agree with him (or at least the advisors guiding him).

President Trump has said our goal will not be “nation building.” Instead, Trump and his advisors believe our military presence in Afghanistan must be increased in an attempt to “strip terrorists of territory and safe havens.” His plan calls for 4000 more American troops to be deployed on top of the present 13,500 NATO troops (8,400 of them American).

So now we should keep an eye on how this all moves forward. At one point back in 2011 under President Obama, our military numbers in Afghanistan had climbed to over 100,000. Obama then gradually reduced this number to it present level of 8,400.

At this point, I think the generals advising President Trump no longer hold the idea that this is a war than can be “won” in any conventional sense of that word. History has repeatedly shown, this is not a land or people easily controlled by outside forces. The Soviet Union learned that lesson in the 1970’s and 80’s. The quagmire they found themselves in played a role in their nation’s demise.

About ten years later, we found ourselves in the role of Afghanistan invader. Soon after 9/11, joining with NATO forces, we invaded an Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban. We believed the Taliban were providing Osama Bin Laden’s al-Quaeda network with a haven for its terrorist planning. The invasion was applauded by much of the world. And within weeks after the invasion, the Taliban was overthrown.

It is my impression that following the Taliban’s overthrow, Afghanis, at least in the more urban areas, greeted this change as a positive thing. Reforms from pre-Taliban days for Afghanistan’s women, and for the educational system in general, were reinstated. (Ironically, these reforms were first established under a socialist government supported by the USSR. And the fundamentalist Mujahideen rebels supported by the U.S. hated them. Many of those rebels became Taliban.)

After the invasion, the West made a military and economic commitment in support of a new direction for Afghans. Some observers believe that if this effort had continued uninterrupted for several years some sort of long-term stability for that society might have taken hold. Instead the money needed for such a push – the building of highways, new schools, modern infrastructure as well as internal security — was diverted to the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq.

Because of the foolish geopolitical theories of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, we never will know if concentrating solely on creating a Western-friendly Afghanistan would have produced positive results. — Probably not. (However,
I never pass up a chance to express my loathing for that team of disgraceful White House occupants.)

Truth is, history has shown that any long-term investment to build a western-friendly Afghanistan will likely just become a money pit filled with our tax dollars, constantly drained by corrupt Afghani politicians and competing tribal leaders. Apparently, this is also the conclusion that has been reached by President Trump’s advisors.

So here we are today, once again sending more of our armed forces into a battle to neutralize thousands of provincial, uneducated young men united by extreme fundamentalist religious beliefs. They reject much of the modern world and the most fanatic among them call for its destruction. (That means us.) And I find myself agreeing with Trump that we should do all we can to prevent safe havens for fanatics who want the West to live in fear of their twisted beliefs.

President Trump’s somewhat tempered approach is considerably different from the saber rattling that seems more Trump’s style. Perhaps this is a sign that he is starting to actually listen to the people who are his advisors. I’m now hoping that these advisors (mostly military men) will show signs they hold equal appreciation for the other powerful tools at the Presidents disposal – skillful international statesmanship, sophisticated espionage, smart economic leveraging.

We squandered more than $800 billion in Iraq. In the 16 years we’ve been in Afghanistan, we’ve spent another $783 billionand over 2,300 American lives. (Our allies have lost over 1,100 from their forces and the Afghani military and civilian deaths have reached nearly 62,000.) We can’t turn back the clock and erase the stupid mistakes that have been made. If instead of spending billions on invading Iraq we had spent billions on treating terrorist activities as international crime, would their threat be less today? Could be.

Like I said at the beginning of this commentary, this is one situation when I don’t strongly disagree with what President Trump is suggesting. Abandoning Afghanistan doesn’t seem like a good option. Neither does heavy military involvement. What’s needed is a very intelligent use of all of the President’s resources – and his patience. Proceeding intelligently and patiently are not attributes usually associated with President Trump. I am truly rooting for the President to surprise us all.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973