President Trump certainly did not start the war in Afghanistan, nor did he perpetuate it for over a decade, but as he seemed to acknowledge himself in his speech last night, the war is now his. In regards to Trump and Afghanistan, I would reflect back to my previous article about the so-called Deep State. There are institutional, organizational, legal, and even geographical constraints to what a sitting president can accomplish. You can promise voters a glittering utopia when you are on the campaign trail (and many politicians do just that) but once you are elected you have to deal with cold hard reality. Human beings may be emotional creatures and will buy into rhetoric, but the mountain that a 19-year-old Marine has to lug an M240B machine gun up the side of, is still a mountain. The Earth has not moved.
An individual in the White House pushed for the Erik Prince option, an option that Prince and Stephen Feinberg (of Cerberus Capital Management) stood to make billions from. The always controversial Erik Prince conducted a media campaign to drum up support for the plan to replace US soldiers in Afghanistan with private security contractors. The notion was clearly self-serving for Prince, but that is not to cast aside the use of contractors outright. While contractors can, and will, provide an important function in US military affairs abroad, it is difficult to see what will change if US Special Forces advisors are swapped out for security contractors who will no doubt have higher pay but less training. The Prince plan was also contingent on several other flaws, namely Erik Prince himself who comes to the table with a lot of political baggage. Furthermore, Prince’s use of colonial anarchronisms like “vice-roy” and “East India Company” did not help matters.
The ouster of Steven Bannon from the White House appears to have permanently halted this embarrassing episode, the pushing of an idea that was never going to get past Secretary Mattis to begin with.
Trump’s speech on Afghanistan was filled with familiar bluster and bravado but was predictably light on content. He talked about getting tough on Pakistan, but did not say what that means. He talked about surging troops, without any indication of how this will change anything. The President promised us a victory when one could not seem further from reach.
Afghanistan appears to be little more than a political hot potato for American politicians who wish they could avoid the issue. Without a strategy or an end game, our soldiers are left hopelessly in the lurch. Soldiers fill up the bodybags while those in Washington D.C. attend cocktail parties. Donald Trump is learning a severe lesson about reality and what it means to be President. Trapped between a rock and a hard place, he is learning that no, in fact, running a government is fundamentally different from running a business.
But while President Trump is getting acquainted with politics, that Marine is still manning the OP on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan, waiting, and wondering what is coming next.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia