In a widely anticipated national address, President Donald Trump on Monday announced that he will not pull out U.S. troops from Afghanistan, saying he’s committed to a new strategy aimed at winning the nation’s longest war, now in its 17th year. Admitting that his “original instinct was to pull out” of Afghanistan – Trump’s core campaign pledge was to reduce US intervention in offshore conflicts – Trump effectively admitted he had been wrong, and said he’s arrived at three “fundamental conclusions” about America’s core interests in Afghanistan:
- U.S. “must seek an honorable and enduring outcome” in which American troops “deserve a plan for victory”
- The consequences of a rapid exit would be “predictable and unacceptable” adding that “a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11”
- The security threats U.S. faces “are immense”; and “we cannot repeat the mistake in Afghanistan our leaders made in Iraq.”
Trump also promised to the soldiers gathered for the speech that “One way or another, these problems will be solved. I am a problem solver. And in the end, we will win.”
In other words, Trump is unveiling a dramatic, new offensive in Afghanistan, only instead of giving details on troop deployments, specific dates, or what the definition of victory would be, Trump will keep the details of the new involvement secret, and that “conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on.”
We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will. Another fundamental pillar of our new strategy is the integration of all instruments of American power, diplomatic, economic, and military, toward a successful outcome. Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban and Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen. America will continue its support for the Afghan government and the Afghan military as they confront the Taliban in the field.
Trump also defined what a victory in Afghanistan would mean:
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. We will ask our NATO allies and global partners to support our new strategy, with additional troop and funding increases in line with our own. We are confident they will.
President Trump: "From now on, victory will have a clear definition" https://t.co/WWDLK93V4z
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 22, 2017
Taking a quick detour into domestic politics, Trump said that “the young men and women we sent to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home. We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other.”
However it was all about Afghanistan:
Ultimately, it is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future, to govern their society, and to achieve an everlasting peace. We are a partner and a friend, but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live or how to govern their own complex society. We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.
Well, that and Pakistan, which has now been thrown into the terrorist “melting pot” fray:
The next pillar of our new strategy is to change the approach in how to deal with Pakistan. We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.
Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists. In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner. Our militaries have worked together against common enemies. The Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism. We recognize those contributions and those sacrifices, but Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the same terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change. And that will change immediately.
And, in a surprising twist, Trump also brought in India to the mix:
Another critical part of the South Asia strategy or America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India, the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic harbor of the United States. We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development. We are committed to pursuing our shared objectives for peace and security in South Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region.
Oddly enough, zero mentions of China, almost as if Trump is telegraphing the new US “axis” in South Asia.
Finally, speaking like a polished cog of a well-greased neo-con/military-industrial wheel – note that Lindsay Graham loved every word of tonight’s speech – Trump warned “Terrorists, take heed. America will never let up until you are dealt a lasting defeat. Under my administration, many billions of dollars more is being spent on our military. And this includes vast amounts being spent on our nuclear arsenal and missile defense. In every generation we have faced down evil, and we have always prevailed.”
In conclusion, Trump may not be able to get approval from Congress to pass his domestic spending agenda, but at least he is about to spend “billions” to continue a war that started 16 years ago and will surely never end, and make shareholders of defense stocks even richer.
Photo: “President of the United States Donald J. Trump at CPAC 2017 February 24th 2017 by Michael Vadon” by Michael Vadon is licensed under CC BY