The long slog in Afghanistan just got longer. But at least this time we are not certain that the war will end in an American defeat.
The president’s speech Monday night made it clear that the Obama administration’s non-strategy of a planned exit was no longer an option in Afghanistan. Trump refuses to allow Afghanistan to fall into the hands of the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Iran, or al Qaeda.
Trump should be commended for halting the practice of furnishing our enemies with a timetable for our departure. Similarly, he deserves praise for refusing to divulge our military plans before they are executed. These were Obama’s hallmarks. They were also Obama’s failures. Trump has instead declared that he will make life more difficult for our enemies in Afghanistan, and to do so with the elements of surprise and overwhelming force.
But what is in store for our allies is now an open question, and it’s cause for some concern. The president announced the end of American nation-building and democracy-promotion. He instead vowed to pursue a policy of “shared interests” with our allies.
Admittedly, the destruction of the Taliban and al Qaeda is in the interest of both the American and Afghan peoples. And it’s tough to argue that America should step up again after plowing more than $100 billion into the country, with little to show for it. On the other hand, it’s hard to plan for an end to this war without ensuring that the country’s government is in good hands.
There will be those who rightly note that America’s role is not to police the world. Those same voices will assert that bringing security, let alone democracy, to Afghanistan is a Herculean task. Perhaps even an impossible one. So, why invest more blood and treasure to a venture that is doomed to fail?
All of that may be true. But our men in women in uniform, not to mention their allies on the ground, should have at least a general sense what they are fighting to create, not just what they seek to defeat.
Our enemies — the Taliban, al Qaeda, the Haqqani network, and Iran — certainly know what they want to create in Afghanistan. And so does Pakistan, which was deservedly called out by the president for its historically perfidious role in undermining all that we have tried to build in Afghanistan since the American military first arrived in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
With his speech last night, the president has declared that he will not allow any of these actors to inherit Afghanistan. The goal is to prevent them from making things worse, and to make them pay for their role in undermining U.S. interests in South Asia. The vision for Afghanistan will come later, if it comes at all.
But for now, at least, Trump has declared that Afghanistan will not be lost. He has declared that America will not be defeated on this battlefield, or any other. This may not sound remarkable. But in the post-Obama era, it’s nothing short of revolutionary.
Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, is senior vice president at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan research institute specializing in national security and foreign policy issues.
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