Afghanistan: Should the U.S. pull out?
“President Trump faces a stalemate in Afghanistan,” said Jim Michaels in USA Today, “not only on the battlefield but also inside the White House over how to end America’s longest war.” As the conflict approaches its 16th anniversary, an increasingly frustrated Trump is torn between two camps. The first, led by senior adviser Stephen Bannon and other “America First” nationalists, favors complete withdrawal or replacing U.S. forces with private security contractors. But Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster want to bolster the 8,500 American service members already in Afghanistan with another 4,000 troops—and stay in the country indefinitely. Trump blew up on his military brass last week, reportedly likening their advice to the poor management of his favorite restaurant, Manhattan’s ‘21’ Club, during the 1980s. He also threatened to fire Gen. John Nicholson as commander in Afghanistan. “We aren’t winning,” Trump complained.
“Trump clearly doesn’t know anything about Afghanistan,” said Max Boot in Commentary Magazine.com. Warfare isn’t similar to running restaurants, and Nicholson is losing ground to the Taliban only because of “the paucity of resources” available to him. A modest surge to push U.S. troops above 10,000 would help us train Afghanistan’s soldiers and “prevent the country from falling once again under the control of violent jihadists.” That includes al Qaida and ISIS, as well as the Taliban, which has retaken a third of Afghanistan. If, however, Trump “indulges his isolationist instincts,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, he’ll own the consequences of the country’s collapse. “The pictures of Taliban marching into Kandahar and Kabul and tearing down the schools for women that the U.S. has done so much to support wouldn’t be pretty.”
Still, it’s time to re-evaluate this costly, unwinnable war, said Daniel DePetris in WashingtonExaminer.com. We achieved our main objective when we demolished Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida infrastructure. “As soon as the mission switched from killing terrorists to building a brand-new Afghan political system,” we became bogged down in a hopeless task that has cost $700 billion and more than 2,400 American fatalities. Rather than prop up the Afghan government indefinitely, said Phillip Carter in Slate.com, the U.S. might be wise to scale down to “a narrow counterterrorism objective.” Trump likes to delegate military decisions to “my generals,” but this policy decision is on him. ■