On Afghanistan, Trump is Right to be Skeptical

trump mattis
Not seeing eye-to-eye: Trump and Mattis (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

W.J. Astore

NBC news reports that President Trump is skeptical about the U.S. military’s prospects in Afghanistan.  The military is losing, not winning, Trump said, and he further suggested the U.S. commander on the scene should be fired.  Meanwhile, China is cleaning up with mineral rights (such as copper mining), even as America’s generals continue with a “stay the course” policy, a policy that’s led to sixteen years of “stalemate” (the U.S. military’s word) at a cost of roughly a trillion dollars.

I highly recommend reading the NBC article for at least two reasons. First, Trump is right to question his advisers’ stale advice.  He’s right to question the generals.  Indeed, that’s his job as president and commander-in-chief.  If sixteen years of effort and a trillion dollars has produced “stalemate” (at best) in Afghanistan, can one blame the president for seeking a new strategy?  Perhaps even a withdrawal?

Second, and most interesting, is the push-back from NBC News and its hired guns: the retired generals and admirals who work for NBC as “consultants.”  Let’s look closely at their comments.

Retired Admiral James Stavridis, a former head of NATO and an NBC News analyst, basically blames the Trump administration, not the military, for the Afghan stalemate.  In his words:

“The situation in Afghanistan is not improving, but I think it’s hardly irretrievable at this point, and what the president needs to be doing is deciding on the strategy.” 

“What is hurting the process at the moment is this back and forth about do we stay or do we go, how many troops,” he added. “Any commander is going to be incredibly handicapped in an environment like that. So I think the fundamental problem here is lack of decisiveness in Washington, specifically in the White House.”

Now, let’s turn to retired General Barry McCaffrey.  President Trump had the audacity to ask experienced combat veterans in Afghanistan (i.e., not only the generals) for advice on the war. and McCaffrey is having none of that:

“One of the last things you necessarily want to do is form policy advice based on what the current combatants think about something in a war zone,” said Gen. McCaffrey, an MSNBC military analyst. “They’re qualified totally to talk about tactics and things like that and what they’re seeing, but the president’s job is to formulate strategy and policy not to do tactical decisions.”

In short, a retired admiral and general at NBC News are taking the President to task for (1) Not being quick enough to rubber-stamp the military’s latest call for more troops in Afghanistan; (2) Daring to listen to the advice of lower-level U.S. combat veterans of the Afghan war, veterans who are rightly critical of the war.

Tell me again: Where’s that “liberal” media bias we’re always hearing about?

Trump is right to question his generals, and he’s right to seek advice from those who don’t wear stars on their shoulders.  And he’s certainly right in not making a hasty decision.

Finally, to NBC News: Can’t you find military experts who aren’t retired generals and admirals?  And with critical perspectives?  Your article essentially supports the generals and their strategy (if that’s the right word) for endless war in Afghanistan.  Is that really the best and only course for America and Afghanistan?  Where’s the talk of negotiation? Withdrawal? An end to America’s seemingly endless commitment to Afghanistan?

Trump is more skeptical of the Afghan war than NBC News and its team of “starry” experts.  Advantage, Trump.

15 thoughts on “On Afghanistan, Trump is Right to be Skeptical

  1. Agreed. Occasionally, President Trump says something that makes perfect common sense, like why have our genius generals spent sixteen years getting two thousand of our enlisted men killed while squandering a trillion dollars of the taxpayer’s money? But, then, President Trump also said that he wanted to restore amicable, cooperative relations with the Russian Federation. We can see where that common-sense idea went. Trump got rolled like wet sushi. So, we will have to wait until President Trump actually fires our latest incompetent generals (he has plenty to choose from) and orders the immediate withdrawal of our military forces from The Graveyard of Empires. Until he does, who cares what he says?

    This Vietnam veteran of an actual quagmire debacle advises President Trump to say to his fuck-up-and-move-up miltiary brass:

    “If you knew what to do, you’d have done it already. If you could have, you would have; but you didn’t, so you can’t. Time’s up.”


  2. Sadly watching MSM does not make a citizen more aware of what is happening regarding ALL the wars….. warmongering peudopundits and “war cheerleading” anchors contribute nothing to understanding of why the country is at war ( it keeps changing ) or the consequences to the the countries being bombed to rubble with hundreds of thousand of their civilians killed. The same experts!! are called to give their opinions… there is no diversity of position on whether war is right or not.
    Prof Bacevich wrote an OpEd in March about Afghanistan…

    and he wrote about General vs the President, a review… excellent…
    Prof Bacevich has hardly ever been called on to give HIS opinion by the MSM.
    As far as the current president is concerned, at least I do not know whether he is just frustrated because his generals are not winning the war so the USA can exploit Afghanistan’s resources or he genuinely believes, the war is never ending and he should end it. Considering Mr Bannon and Erik Prince want to privatise the war more than it already is ( 3 to 1 ) and the Prez listens to them, one does not know where it is going to lead.
    For the sake of the country, hopefully the Prez will decide on withdrawal and not maintaining the status quo.


    1. If we set aside the merry-go-round of various explanations – as opposed to rationales – for that enduring occupation ranging from catching Bin Laden to eradicating poppy cultivation (remember that one?) and ‘training’ local forces, I can see only one military objective and two financial ones.
      The latter being the military-industrial-mercenary complex making a fortune there, so the longer this ‘war’ lasts, the bigger the profits. That objective is being achieved but won’t ever have clear-cut criteria for success & completion.
      Exploiting Afghan natural resources is the other financial objective, but the Chinese have so much of a head start that this objective will likely remain a failure, unless we take into account illicit exploitation of local resouces such as precious stones, robbed archeological treasures and of course opium/heroin. I wouldn’t underestimate those gains.
      As for any military objective, apart from ‘field testing’ of military equipment and ordnance I can think of only one – although it never is officially mentioned – and that is the wish to maintain ‘forever’ all the sprawling military bases from which the US/NATO armies have easy access to Iran, Pakistan, a string of former Soviet states and China. US/NATO presence has always been about protecting THEMSELVES, their military bases and (supply) convoys, as opposed to protecting Afghans.
      In any other country keeping such bases must be negotiated with the local government, there are popular protests (Korea, Japan, Philippines, etc), while Afghanistan is so utterly defenseless and is kept that way by means of mindboggling amounts of dollars spent on corruption rather than development, that none of such diplomacy is needed. Something like torture developers Mitchell & Jessen’s ‘learned helplessness’ forced upon GWOT prisoners. Only difference being that in order to achieve such unconditional ‘cooperation’, those never received any dollars, only torture.
      None of the above inspires any hope of a withdrawal any time soon.
      The idea that any new ‘surge’ would make a positive difference is beyond absurd, but it would provoke taliban and most of all ISIS into even more attacks and thus fuel the never-ending spiral of mutual retaliations & increasing violence.
      If that is the objective, these 16 years must be considered to have been a huge success, to be continued by all means.


    2. Excellent analysis. But we must always consider domestic politics as well. No American president wants to “lose” a war. The Democrats pose as war hawks to preempt Republican charges of being weak, but Republicans accuse them anyway. Trump ran on a policy of winning all the time; can he be seen as “losing” in Afghanistan, when members of his own party implore him to follow the “advice” (i.e. the orders) of his generals?

      Trump has a chance to chart a new course — one of phased withdrawal — but I don’t think he has the wisdom or guts to do it. Like Bush and Obama, he will “stay the course,” a safer policy when you consider domestic politics in America.


  3. Cliff, thanks for the link. The Guardian is one my go to sites for news.

    The usual crap from FOX, MSNBC and CNN has the parade of Admirals, Generals and so-called experts telling us all we need is some “strategy” change. These people simply do not understand and more importantly do not want to accept the fact we are chasing our tails. If they do understand no military “strategy” will be successful they cannot say so. They live in and propagate the World War 2 era strategy and tactics – OK, we cleared the Germans out of Normandy, now it’s on to the Rhine and all the territory behind us is secure. Some plan will call for us to send troops and overwhelming fire power into Crapistan Province. Once the US Troops leave the Taliban will surface again.

    Now we are hearing about surges and more troops to “force” the Taliban to the peace table. This would be a replay of Nixon’s Vietnamization and Peace with Honor.

    The Guardian has an article today: South Korea spy agency admits trying to rig 2012 presidential election. South Korea’s spy agency has admitted it conducted an illicit campaign to influence the country’s 2012 presidential election, mobilizing teams of experts in psychological warfare to ensure that the conservative candidate, Park Geun-hye, beat her liberal rival. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/04/south-koreas-spy-agency-admits-trying-rig-election-national-intelligence-service-2012

    We have Corporatism, here in the USA to accomplish the same thing, through political contributions (the gateway drug to corruption) and lobbyists, to make sure the script is followed by elected officials. The Republicans and Establishment Corporate Democratic Party has a cease fire in place, in terms of a critical assessment of our Geo-Political Imperialism.


  4. Interesting article here: https://fabiusmaximus.com/2017/08/05/stratfor-sees-afghanistan-war-fatigue-in-america-only-our-ruler-remain-eager/

    Euphemism alert: “Conflict management” is apparently the name of the game in Washington, as opposed to “conflict resolution,” i.e. winning (or losing) quickly. For the U.S., conflict management equates to losing in slow motion and at incredible cost. Trump is right to see this as folly, but I don’t think he has the political clout to alter the Pentagon’s course.

    Imagine the Titanic steaming ahead to hit the iceberg, then repeating it, again and again. hoping each time for a more favorable collision. That’s U.S. policy in Afghanistan.


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