US President Donald Trump has issued his new strategy for Afghanistan, the longest war in US history. Some of his speech sounds like recycled excerpts from presidents talking about Iraq or Vietnam. In all likelihood, the US will be as ‘successful’ in Afghanistan as it was in those two countries.
Mr Trump said that three things struck him as he studied the situation in Afghanistan. “First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made; second, the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable … third, and finally, I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense”.
We will dissect this statement, for both its historical and illogical content.
“First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made”.
In 1968, Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon promised this: “I pledge to you that we shall have an honorable end to the war in Vietnam”. Seven long and deadly years later, international photographers captured the chaos and mayhem as Americans and their Vietnamese collaborators fled by helicopter, ship and any other means possible from the country, as the Communist forces declared victory after decades of war.
With over 55,000 US soldiers, and at least 2,000,000 Vietnamese citizens (by conservative estimates), dead, the nation in ruins, effects from Agent Orange, the defoliant dropped on the country by the US by the ton to remain for generations, there was nothing ‘honorable’ about the war except the eventual victory of the Vietnamese people over the mighty US.
In 2005, Melvin Laird, Defense Secretary under Mr Nixon said this about Iraq: “Just because we get our force level down in Iraq doesn’t mean we can walk away or the losses we suffered will be in vain”. And Mr. Trump wants an “outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made”. Déjà vu all over again!
“Second, the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.”
Without planning, they are certainly predictable; the US exited Vietnam in a big rush. And they are probably unacceptable to a president with an ego that dwarfs even that of the highly insecure Democrat Lyndon Johnson, whose deadly six years in office were focused mainly on Vietnam, and whose policies there caused him not to seek the full term for which he was eligible, after his first elected term concluded.
One would think, however, that a plan could be developed to remove 8,500 US soldiers from Afghanistan. The government – mainly the Taliban – would be more than happy to see them go, so if the US were to make a proposal for their departure, there is no sensible reason to believe it would be rejected. The chaos that characterized the end of the Vietnam War could be avoided.
“Finally, I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense.”
This writer admits to being puzzled. Continued involvement in Afghanistan only fuels greater hatred of the US; not because of its cherished and more or less mythical freedoms, but because it keeps killing people indiscriminately.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Trump, Afghanistan and History’.