At 6PM today (9PM for you New York liberal elites), President Trump will give his first televised speech to the country.
Speaking at Fort Myer in Virginia, Trump will outline a “path forward for America’s engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia.”
For Afghanistan, he’s almost certain to announce a small uptick in troops being committed to the effort, likely about 4,000. He’s also thought to be announcing a crackdown on corruption in the Afghan government, and measures to bring Pakistani anti-terror operations up to snuff.
This number would dovetail with news reports from a few months ago that the Pentagon was considered a small troop surge to support training the Afghan Army in response to the Taliban making large gains in regaining control of the country.
I’m far from a foreign policy expert. I majored in theater. I’ve never been to the Middle East. I have exceptionally soft hands. But I can say this with a pretty high degree of confidence:
Whatever Trump announces will fail. The Taliban will not be thrown back, Afghanistan will not become a stable democracy, and the war will not end.
That’s not because of any nonsensical notion that our military is “depleted,” a favorite accusation of Trump when he was a candidate (who repeatedly called for immediate and total withdrawal from the place, you might recall.)
It’s because Afghanistan is not a place where wars are won, it’s a place where nations send young men to die.
The country is literally nicknamed “the graveyard of empires” for its rugged terrain and the ferocious resistance of the Pashtun people to military intervention by everyone from the Mongols to the Bush Administration.
This reputation might be somewhat overstated, but the fact is that over three centuries, three of the most powerful entities of the time (the British in much of the 1800’s, the Russians in the 1980’s, and the United States now) have failed to install a permanent, functioning government while withdrawing their troops.
Meanwhile, the United States embarks on another offensive in a war old that’s almost enough to legally drive.
A month before U.S. troops entered the country to topple the Taliban in the wake of 9/11, Denver Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey broke his leg during week 1 of the 2001 NFL season.
As Trump prepares to announce a new troop surge, McCaffrey’s son Christian is playing pre-season games before making his NFL debut.
That’s how long we’ve been in Afghanistan.
What Trump will propose is far from the first troop surge against the Taliban. In November, 2001, the U.S. had 1,300 troops in the country. By August, 2010, President Obama had increased the number to 100,000. The number fell after that, but the war went on. The Taliban was routed, rebuilt itself, and now controls 40 percent of the country, with Islamic State offshoots and other groups holding territory as well.
And the Afghan government is as robustly corrupt as ever, pillaging countless billions of dollars from the western world meant to go to the impoverished people. The more we push against the insurgency, the more it pushes back, while warlords and crooked flunkies loot the money we pour into a sinkhole of aid.
How will 4,000 more troops achieve what 100,000 couldn’t? What is it that they’re even tasked with doing? What does winning look like? How will we know when we’ve won? How will Afghanistan know? What will happen when we leave?
It’s likely that President Trump will not answer any of those questions. They likely don’t have answers, at least not answers that a winning-obsessed president will care to grapple with.
2,400 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan, with as many as five times that wounded. And ProPublica cataloged a staggering $19 billion in wasted American taxpayer money, funding everything from bases and police offices that were never used to empty warehouses to military gear that had to be destroyed because it couldn’t be brought back to the U.S.
So much has been spent and so many people lost – and for what?
Scholars and experts have been debating whether the U.S. should leave the country for nearly a decade. It doesn’t matter to the Taliban, who coined the proverb “you have the watches, we have the time.”
President Trump probably has a fabulous watch. But he doesn’t have anything to bring to Afghanistan that other presidents and empires have already expended.