It’s understandable that Donald Trump, who was trying out his populist themes years before formally declaring his candidacy for the office of president, would eventually develop more sophisticated and nuanced views of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Here’s pre-candidate Trump early in 2013:
Trump’s call to “Rebuild the USA” is an early version of his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan and a central tenet that attracted millions of voters to his cause during the election. Since the war began with the invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 there have been almost 2,400 U.S. casualties and over 20,000 service members wounded. Afghan civilian and Taliban casualties are difficult to assess but some estimates indicate over 24,000 Afghan civilians have been killed during the war.
Donald Trump has moved from “Nonsense!” and a call to bring our troops home (in 2013) to reports last week that he has approved an increase in troops deployed in Afghanistan despite having no clear plan or articulated mission outcomes.
“White House officials say they are still debating America’s role in Afghanistan…In the meantime, the Pentagon is moving ahead with plans to send 3,000 to 5,000 troops to try to stabilize the country.” NYT
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis admitted that the U.S. is “not winning in Afghanistan right now” and faced tough questions from Senators about the lack of a coherent strategy for success. John McCain (R-AZ) in particular pressed Mattis on a timeline and the need for a strategy: “We’re now six months into this administration. We still haven’t got a strategy for Afghanistan. It makes it hard for us to support you when we don’t have a strategy.”
To be accountable to the American people, Donald Trump needs to
- Articulate a rationale for an increase in troops in Afghanistan. How will increased military intervention lead to a political solution? This includes explaining to his supporters why we are increasing troop levels – they largely wanted him to spend money at home rather than abroad.
- Lay out a strategy for success and share it – at least with the Senate Armed Services Committee. Trump famously dodged specifics during the election about military operations citing his disdain for sharing goals and strategy with the enemy. If John McCain is satisfied that there is a clear strategy in place and he endorses it then we will know that we are moving ahead strategically.
- Explain how our allies can help us achieve success in Afghanistan. Donald Trump’s reluctance to openly support NATO members and Article 5 of the NATO Treaty has weakened support for multi-national efforts to help the U.S. achieve geo-political goals.
Presidents are responsible for developing a military strategy that will achieve a peaceful solution and sharing that strategy with the Americans who support our troops and pay for the war.
Image Credit: Katehon