Thursday, August 3, 2017

Trump Lets the Generals Have It

The latest leak from within the sieve of the Trump administration allowed NBC news to publish a remarkably detailed account of a top secret meeting of the National Security Council in mid July. It seems the point of the meeting was to get Trump to endorse the Pentagon's plan to send 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan and commit to years more of combat.

But Trump wasn't having it. He lambasted the generals for failing, saying "We're not winning, we're losing." He said that Gen. John Nicholson, currently in command in Afghanistan, should be fired.

Trump had recently spoken to some regular soldiers who told him the war was a disaster, and he compared Afghanistan to a troubled Manhattan restaurant where, he said, the waiters knew what was going on but the owners didn't have a clue.

I love this; one thing about Trump is that he is not afraid to say what he thinks to anybody. But can he actually have any impact on the situation? He may not like the Pentagon's plan, but does he have any clue what to do instead? Do any of his close advisers? In the end some decision has to be made, and if nobody can come up with an alternative to the Pentagon's strategy, that will be chosen by default.

Personally I would have pulled out of Afghanistan a decade ago, figuring that if the Afghans want a democracy they can damn well fight for it themselves. Keeping 10,000 Americans in country at great expense just seems to be prolonging the stalemate. I wonder what they really think in the Pentagon. Do they think that with some level of troops and planes they could finish off the Taliban and win the war? Do they wish they had 200,000 men but know they won't get them? Or would they rather walk away? It's puzzling, really. What do we think we are doing?

But I'm glad to see Trump calling bullshit on somebody.


Shadow said...

Ask Bush. I'm sure he has a solution. You know, you gotta talk to the experts.

G. Verloren said...

"But I'm glad to see Trump calling bullshit on somebody"

Doesn't "calling bullshit" usually require you to understand the issue at hand? Trump can barely find Afghanistan on a map, much less comprehend the nature of the conflict. What makes you think he has the slightest clue what's actually going on, in order for him to claim the military is full of shit?

Also, hasn't Trump "called bullshit" on a lot of people? The media? The FBI? The federal investigators probing his ties to Russia? Were you "glad" when he called people like that out on their supposed bullshit? What's different this time, except perhaps that now, for the first time, you agree with him on some level?

Personally, what I'm glad to see is Trump ailenating the Pentagon. There are ways to go about disagreeing with the generals who run our military, and ways to go about changing our foreign policy and military investment overseas. But throwing an utterly ignorant tantrum is probably one of the worst ways you could possibly choose, and it gladdens me to see Trump weakening his own position even further.

Unknown said...

G., I would agree that Trump's stance here is probably pretty superficial. I would *guess* that he's unhappy because the generals haven't delivered, and have no way of delivering, an obvious "win" on a short timetable.

The problem the US faces in Afghanistan is that we have committed ourselves to a deeply divided society with weak institutions that is hard up against a much larger regional power, Pakistan, that has decided it must control it. We face the same situation in Ukraine vis-a-vis Russia, and Iraq vis-a-vis Iran.

In all three places, realistically our choices are to 1) make a more or less formal, long-term commitment (as with western Europe in 1947); 2) walk away; or 3) continue muddling along. Given the situations in these places today, I think 3 is probably the best option, but I can understand if many are unhappy with that.

To me, the very most important thing is that we NOT listen to the folks who say the solution is to go to war against the hostile regional power.

Shadow said...

So now we have two phony democracies in two city-states to show for all this. Yet I still hear people insisting our foreign policy objectives must include the promotion of democracy around the world. How about we stop promoting democracy as a policy objective and let people figure out for themselves what they want. There was only ever one good reason to go into Afghanistan and that was to remove Al Qaida and kill Bin Laden. We should have done that and then left. But no, we had to save them from themselves. Things can only get worse by remaining in country. It's been 16 years. If Kabul doesn't have a fighting force by now capable of standing up to the Taliban, they never will. Time to come home.

G. Verloren said...

@Shadow Flutter

There's a reason Afghanistan is nicknamed "The Graveyard of Empires"...

Unknown said...

Actually, if you want praise of Trump, I would say a good thing is his overall esteem for generals and his closeness to them. As far as I can tell, the generals are a restraining influence. Under Trump, the probable alternative wouldn't be a less bellicose foreign policy, but greater influence for the old neocons and nationalist crazies who aren't going to be satisfied until they get a war with Iran. Remember, it was Mattis who persuaded Trump that torture was a bad idea. The more he listens to guys like Mattis and McMaster, the better.