Trump's Afghanistan speech was no cave-in; it was Trump being Trump
To hear the media call it, President Trump has retreated from his original stance on Afghanistan in his pivotal new policy speech and allowed the swamp to take him down, finally adapting himself to the ways of Washington. Here's a headline from the New York Times: "Angry Trump Grilled His Generals About Troop Increase, Then Gave In."
His whole new strategy is supposedly a continuation of the past policies of the Obama and Bush administrations: baby steps, or else a cave-in to what his generals want. There was an excessive focus on 4,000 troops, which is an uncertain number Trump hasn't explicitly given. A reading of the speech itself tells a different story.
Trump started with the truth of what the war means to him on a visceral level: he is tired of it. He is tired of the contractors, tired of the Afghani girls' education programs, tired of the NGOs and contractors making big bucks, tired of the Afghan migrants, Afghan Taliban among troops and Afghan corruption, and tired of the institutionalization of the war. It came off in a way that resonated with the American people who elected him and rejected the Bush-Obama record.
And we must acknowledge the reality I'm here to talk about tonight, that nearly 16 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, after the extraordinary sacrifice of blood and treasure, the American people are weary of war without victory. Nowhere is this more evident than with the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history, 17 years.
I share the American people's frustration. I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money – and most importantly, lives – trying to rebuild countries in our own image instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations.
It also helped that he laid out an actual goal – not Afghan girls' education, as it was when Laura Bush was running things, but victory. And he tied that victory not to a generalized "we're number one" sentiment, which might have worked, but to the more elemental reality that despite the bad leadership in this war, men and women have sacrificed their lives for it, and those sacrifices should not have been for nothing. Only victory will ensure that, so he called for the real thing: victory.
I arrived at three fundamental conclusion about America's core interests in Afghanistan. First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives. The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory.
Even more directly:
Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition. Attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.
It shows that Trump is keenly aware of our recent history of weakness, dating from the Vietnam War, actually – that beating our enemies isn't hard for us, but we have a bad tendency to throw away victories, as we did in Vietnam. By demanding victory in the name of the troops who sacrificed, it's clear he means to end that bad pattern.
Trump's focus on Pakistan was probably the meatiest element of the speech – for years, we have been hearing about the $2 billion in aid we give to that country and know very well that its government officials were the ones harboring Osama bin Laden in full home comfort, complete with multiple wives and porno videos. They also threw the doctor who helped finger the master terrorist into prison, where he still rots. We know that the Pakistanis enjoy shipping terrorists over the border to India, and we know they harbor their very own Taliban out on their Afghan border, which helps and supplies the Afghan Taliban and perpetuates its power. Sure, they offer transport routes for supplies into the country, but the reality is, they have elements in their ISI secret services who enjoyed those towers going down on 9/11 and who, as petty bureaucrats, have fiefdoms to defend. And it is part of the government, and it's a part that carries on with impunity. The land of acid attacks, killing girls for trying to read, and "big bomb in the marketplace" terror attacks is the miserable result. Yes, there are all sorts of geopolitical considerations as the country triangulates with China and Russia to check its enemies, but the war is not going to be won without Pakistan cleaning up its act. That Trump "went there" and finally laid it on the line – and in a way that holds out a hand to Pakistan instead of just a stick – was just the right medicine, given that American people hold no major ill will toward Pakistan otherwise and just want the terrorism to be over.
Trump was very direct about it:
But that will have to change. And that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country's harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and to peace.
Trump's bringing up India and asking it to help out on Afghanistan is another element of The Real Trump, who drew so much warm support from Indian-Americans during the election of 2016. The media chalked it up to Trump's business interests, but it's pretty obvious that Trump had more in mind than that – he wants to bring India on stage in a world role, and his partnering with India pretty well sends a message to Pakistan that if it does not play ball, it gets India on two sides of its borders.
Lastly, Trump did address the lawyerization of the Afghanistan war, where Washington swamp things in the legal community cancel out air strikes against terrorists because the legal ts and is have not been crossed and dotted. Micromanaging from desk jockeys in the White House and Pentagon, as the Obama administration used to do, often for political correctness reasons or to satisfy some non-government organization, really does stand in the way of victory. Frankly, it too disgusts the American people as it interferes with both troops' lives and halts victory in the name of perfect paper-pushing.
Trump knows these things. He wants victory; he wants the terrorist problem to be over. All of his other instincts were perfectly aligned as he made his decision to take up his new Afghanistan strategy.