Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition. Attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.—President Donald J. Trump, August 21, 2017
Like the predecessor he loves to malign, Barack Obama, Donald Trump has been forced to accept that there is no exit from Afghanistan. Both presidents campaigned on ending the US commitment there; both ended up confirming it.
After the Taliban government of that country sheltered those who planned and executed the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States had a good basis in international law for its invasion, and it was supported by a unified UN Security Council. Unlike the subsequent unilateral US invasion of Iraq, the attack on Afghanistan was justified.
But we now understand that it was also foolish. Over 100,000 troops sent by President George W. Bush could win battles but could not win the war. Why?
Almost three months ago I pointed out (“Trump Joins Bush and Obama” June 1) that a succession of outside powers going back to the ancient Persians could conquer, but could not control this territory. That is exactly what Bush found, and that is why we are still there. Obama saw the futility of being there, but still could not get us out. He radically reduced our troop strength and set a public deadline (which of course put the Taliban on notice of just how long they had to hold out).
So now Trump has been convinced to give it a try, because like Obama, he has been convinced that we can’t just get out.
So now Trump has been convinced to give it a try, because like Obama, he has been convinced that we can’t just get out. But, he now says, we will do things differently. The above quotation crystallizes his approach.
“We will fight to win.”
Just what could that mean, strategically, when we are locked into a war against radical Islamists in which each and every military strike only generates more suicidal jihadists?
“Victory will have a clear definition. Attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.”
Just how is this any different from either the Bush or the Obama plans? If we obliterate ISIS, or crush Al Qaeda, won’t other jihadist groups emerge? Is it not true that preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan has been the mission since the invasion of 2001? And is there any way of doing that except by keeping our troops there? Is it not the case that both Bush and Obama stopped mass terrorist attacks after 2001?
The only thing new in Trump’s announcement is that it is he who is making it. And his prospects for success are no better. We have been trying, unsuccessfully, to control the greater Middle East since World War II. We have only generated more opposition. The only way we could eventually escape this cycle is to stop trying to control the region. But we can’t do that without risking more terrorist attacks on us. So we keep on, and will keep on, indefinitely.
The American Age in Afghanistan has been confirmed. We will, like earlier imperial powers, ride the tiger until we fall off. We will never tame it.