Trump fails to cut war losses in Afghanistan due to mil­i­tary ego

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE -


as ac­tor Tom Hanks said “there’s no cry­ing in base­ball” in A League of Their Own, there’s also no vic­tory in Afghanistan. It’s a zero-sum game.

Some­how, I think Don­ald Trump un­der­stands this de­spite his an­nounced de­ci­sion that he isn’t ready to give up on the long­est war in U.S. his­tory — a de­ci­sion that will re­quire ad­di­tional troops and es­ti­mates of fi­nan­cial out­lay of more than $800 bil­lion on top of the $1 tril­lion al­ready spent as a di­rect and in­di­rect re­sult of 17 years of U.S. pres­ence.

Trump was ex­press­ing the need to va­cate the land of the Tal­iban through­out his cam­paign for the pres­i­dency and even af­ter his in­au­gu­ra­tion. But ap­par­ently af­ter con­tentious dis­agree­ment with “my gen­er­als,” as he likes to re­fer to the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship he has come to lean on, he ca­pit­u­lated. That may be the first of a se­ries of losses he now faces in try­ing to quell the forces of a fierce ide­ol­ogy that surges and re­treats but al­ways is there.

If his­tory has given a blue­print of the sit­u­a­tion, the only thing that will bring sta­bil­ity to this trou­bled haven of rad­i­cal­ized Mus­lims is a con­tin­ued U.S. com­mit­ment into per­pe­tu­ity. The mo­ment that dis­ap­pears, the Tal­iban will rein­sert it­self into daily af­fairs un­til it ul­ti­mately takes to­tal con­trol of the state nei­ther the Bri­tish nor the Rus­sians nor, for that mat­ter, this na­tion has been able to sta­bi­lize. Not un­like Richard Nixon’s un­der­stand­ing that our achiev­ing last­ing peace in Viet­nam without uni­fi­ca­tion was a pipedream, that the best that could be ac­com­plished would be a de­cent in­ter­val to per­mit the with­drawal of Amer­i­can forces, Trump must re­al­ize the same for Afghanistan. So why have we not learned from his­tory af­ter so many years of this tragic pres­sure on Amer­i­can troops, many of whom have had mul­ti­ple tours there? Is it our mil­i­tary ego? Well, now it seems we will pay for the lost lives, bro­ken homes and bro­ken bod­ies for years to come. Since 2001 an es­ti­mated $212 bil­lion has been ex­pended to care for war vet­er­ans.

There are ap­par­ently sev­eral fac­tors for stay­ing with it. One is the con­cern that if we with­draw en­tirely from Afghanistan, we open the gate to fur­ther Mideast tur­moil, in­clud­ing an­other safe spot for world ter­ror­ism. Rad­i­cals in nu­clear-armed Pak­istan could play a more dra­matic role. Trump ad­mon­ished India — U.S. ally and a tra­di­tional foe of Pak­istan — to take a big­ger part in the en­tire re­gion.

An­other rea­son is the fear that end­ing Amer­i­can pres­ence al­to­gether would fur­ther dam­age the na­tion’s im­age to the ben­e­fit of al­ready in­creas­ing rad­i­cal­iza­tion through­out the world.

By an­nounc­ing his new strat­egy (which looks like the prior ap­proach — more troops to aid and back up Afghan’s mil­i­tary) Trump is putting his own stamp on the war. He won’t be able to blame for­mer pres­i­dents Ge­orge W. Bush or Barack Obama when things go wrong, as they in­evitably will if his­tory is any in­di­ca­tor. The war is his now.

Be­gin­ning with Ge­orge Wash- in­g­ton, this coun­try has had sev­eral pres­i­dents who were mil­i­tary lead­ers: An­drew Jack­son, Zachary Taylor, William Henry Har­ri­son, U.S. Grant, Theodore Roo­sevelt and Dwight D. Eisen­hower. But no one, it seems, has re­lied on the mil­i­tary as much as Trump. His top lead­ers on his White House staff and his De­fense Sec­re­tary are all for­mer gen­eral of­fi­cers and he is close to sev­eral oth­ers who ad­vise him. While they bring man­age­ment skills sorely needed by a chaotic White House, crit­ics con­tend that there is too much mil­i­tary in a gov­ern­ment run by civil­ians.

As a pres­i­dent, Trump has not only proven to be volatile and un­pre­dictable but also un­pre­pared for such a po­si­tion. His short ten­ure has been marred by empty prom­ises, disin­gen­u­ous­ness, swag­ger, un­prece­dented volatil­ity and little sign of suit­abil­ity. He now ap­pears to be in a run­ning bat­tle with his own party in Congress.

With this new Afghan strat­egy, Trump will face more con­gres­sional dis­rup­tion with law­mak­ers in­creas­ingly ner­vous about the con­tin­u­ing war. Al­most two decades of sac­ri­fic­ing young Amer­i­cans and ask­ing tax­pay­ers for un­prece­dented amounts of money without erad­i­cat­ing the Tal­iban is enough. Those who ar­gue that to­tal with­drawal would bring un­ac­cept­able threat to our na­tional se­cu­rity should con­sider the cost al­ready ac­crued and whether con­tin­u­ing the drain on man­power and purse is worth it. Isn’t it time to cut the losses? Tri­bune News Ser­vice

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