Hussain Abdul Hussain
In a speech, President Donald Trump presented what he described as his plan for victory in Afghanistan. But the plan, and the speech, looked more about Trump, his attempts at political survival, and his bid for reelection, than winning in Afghanistan.
Trump’s plan came after weeks of deliberations with his staff and generals, topped with a series of closed sessions at the Camp David presidential resort. Since at least 2013, Trump had repeatedly described Afghanistan as a “losing war”, and had at times tweeted “let’s get out,” a call that Trump said was the result of his instinct.
But now, after having sat in the Oval Office and consulted with the generals, Trump said that he has reversed course and broken his promise to withdraw from Afghanistan. Now Trump offered a plan for victory in Afghanistan that Americans deserve, even though, except for keeping troop levels concealed, Trump’s Afghanistan plan had nothing new, when compared to the previous U.S. blueprints.
Since his election, Trump has held onto his promise of withdrawing from Afghanistan. Yet at the same time, he has delegated military decisions to his generals. The White House stopped announcing troop levels in Iraq and Syria, and instead said that it was up to the Department of Defense, itself headed by a general for the first time in decades, to decide how much resources it requires to defeat ISIS.
While Trump looked as if he was differing military decisions to the experts, he was, in fact, dodging his responsibility as the person in charge of supporting the generals politically and on a popular level. By throwing the war against ISIS to the military, Trump had technically abandoned his role as America’s leader who decides which wars to fight, and what resources to allocate to each of these wars.
Surrendering decisions in Iraq and Syria to the military was an easy sell. After all, Americans are in consensus that Daesh should be defeated.
But the war in Afghanistan is different. In the opinion of a majority of Americans, Afghanistan does not present a clear danger to Americans or their interests. Afghanistan is also beyond recovery or victory. It has become the longest war in American history, and Americans seem to have given up on saving this seemingly irreparable country.
So Trump said that the Oval Office has changed him. To save face, he promised that America is not going back to the business of nation-building. Such a mission, however, had already been abandoned 10 years ago, when former President George Bush ordered the “surge of troops” in Iraq. Bush’s successor, former President Barack Obama, upheld Bush’s tactic and expanded it to Afghanistan, where he ordered a similar surge of troops that helped restore Kabul’s dominance over most cities and the countryside. The Taliban went into hiding.
By the time, American troops started withdrawing, the Taliban sprang back into action, pushing Afghanistan back to where it was before the surge. By the time Trump became president, the U.S. military was waiting for new plans in Afghanistan, none which included complete withdrawal, for fear that a failing state in Kabul might become a safe haven for terrorists, from where they can launch a repeat of the 9/11 attacks.
It has been reported that Trump started his sessions by berating the generals over their failure in Afghanistan and demanding that Americans withdraw. It seems that the generals pushed back, and made Trump understand that complete withdrawal was not an option. In the ensuing back and forth, the two sides came up with a plan that gave each party what it wants: The military will run the war in Afghanistan as its sees fit, while Trump will be allowed to present his case to the American people in a way that can stop the free fall in his popularity.
Trump’s shift came shortly after his position domestically, in support of the radical right, backfired badly on him. Organizations started cancelling events at his clubs, costing him hundreds of thousands of dollars, and causing his brand some permanent damage. America’s top CEO’s, whom Trump had appointed to his largely ceremonial presidential councils, ran for the gates, and started resigning, one after another, thus forcing Trump’s councils to collapse. Senior Republicans in Congress started openly questioning Trump’s mental stability.
By firing his radical right-wing aid Steve Bannon, it seems that Trump might have realized that the radical right was not enough to shield him on a popular level. Hence, a trade with the military, in which Trump looked presidential, might have seemed the best course of action for the president who is facing unprecedented isolation.
Yet being the unpredictable president that he is, no one can tell whether Trump will stick to his presidential tone, which he had offered once in the past during his first State of the Union speech before Congress, in January. While Trump’s supporters are keeping their fingers crossed that their president will stir away from feuding and trouble and remain presidential thereafter, his detractors are almost sure that it will not take long before Trump goes back to the same shenanigans that have caused the sinking of his presidency.
Trump might not be serious in lending his support to the war in Afghanistan, especially if the military fails to show clear-cut victory.
Afghanistan looks like an open-ended war, a curse and a quagmire that has engulfed the American military, without light at the end of the tunnel. If the war in Afghanistan does not go in America’s favor, it might start hurting Trump’s popularity, just like it did to that of his predecessors. In such a case, Trump should be expected to run to the exit.
Trump might have entered into a deal over Afghanistan with his general, but the man is too unpredictable to uphold his side of the agreement. The war in Afghanistan better start going in a favorable direction that can make Trump thump his chest and claim victory, any victory, that he has been desperately seeking since he has become president.
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