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One of the few things Donald Trump had in common with Barack Obama was that both campaigned on getting out of Afghanistan. And now, like Obama before him, he’s finding that however easy it was for George W. Bush to get us in, it’s virtually impossible to get out. Trump has now ordered 5000 more American troops back into the country. That is just the beginning. Like both his predecessors, he’s going to find that the longer we stay, the more insurgency and terrorism we will provoke.

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After 9/11, and the complicity of the Taliban government of Afghanistan in the attack, the invasion was justifiable under international law (in contrast to that of Iraq two years later). It was nonetheless a foolish move: we have been able to win battles, to stave off defeat, and if we keep enough troops there we can continue to do so. But to Afghanis we will always be an alien, imperialistic force. The fundamental base for insurgency will remain, and every time we let up the pressure, we will be challenged once more.

Trump has now ordered 5000 more American troops back into the country. That is just the beginning. Like both his predecessors, he’s going to find that the longer we stay, the more insurgency and terrorism we will provoke.

The ancient Persians tried to rule Afghanistan. Alexander the Great could conquer it but couldn’t maintain lasting control. The Islamic empires of Persia and the Indian Mughals tried. Imperial Britain made a major push to control the country. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 and set up a client state, but they ultimately had to withdraw and watch their client president be torn apart by mobs.

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Why couldn’t three successive American presidents learn from this history? I suggest that each had his own set of blinders. George W. Bush’s decision to invade was dominated by the interventionist neoconservative advisers led by Vice President Dick Cheney, who actually seized upon the 9/11 attacks to implement the interventionist policy that they had wanted all along. Cheney and his allies seem to have really convinced Bush that the American troops would be welcomed as liberators. By the time Bush realized that error, we were already in.

Barack Obama was characteristically thoughtful and cautious about how to get out of Afghanistan: he wanted to do it carefully so that we left behind a viable government that could, with US aid, stand on its own against Islamist insurgents. But over eight years, he never found that sweet spot, so he never got out.

Trump is like neither of his predecessors. In his campaign he asserted quite clearly that we should not be sending troops and resources to a country that is really quite marginal to our interests. But the same nationalist who, at this writing, has just announced the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord on grounds that it doesn’t serve American interests, will find it impossible to stay out of Afghanistan. Why? With him, as always, it’s all about Donald: he cannot bear to be humiliated.

His friends the Russians faced an untenable situation in Afghanistan. They cut their losses and pulled out. Today, they’re watching us swing in the wind. If Trump were capable of learning anything, he might learn from that.

John Peeler

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