US Stuck In the Graveyard of Empires

By Ishaal Zehra

Media reports claim that the American President, Donald Trump, has let loose to his advisers who were tasked to craft the new US strategy in Afghanistan, blasting them strikingly for their startling failures in America’s longest war in Afghanistan. According to some senior officials, he even suggested firing the war’s top military commander Gen. John Nicholson during a tense meeting at the White House on the pretext of “not winning the war”. Officials said Trump pointed to maps showing the Taliban gaining ground, and that Defense Secretary Mattis responded to the president by saying the US is losing because it doesn’t have the strategy it needs.

Trump is the third US president dealing with the Afghan war. Former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush went through multiple strategies over the course of their presidencies to try to stabilize Afghanistan. What set Trump apart in the July meeting was his open questioning of the quality of the advice he was receiving. Trump’s national security team has been trying for months to come up with a new strategy he can approve, but all in vein.

Though the president is surely not a pro when it comes to keeping personal comments and feelings out of politics. And he surely is lousy while speaking in public. But he was absolutely right to snub the military brass for daring to ask for a very large troop and budget increase for the stalemated Afghan War that has commanded a price of $1 trillion to date.

Of course, the unfortunate generals are not really to blame. They have been forced by the last three presidents to fight, as Eric Margolis defines in his recent article, a pointless war at the top of the world that lacks any strategy, reason or purpose – and with limited forces. Where they are not even allowed to admit defeat by lightly-armed Muslim tribesmen. The truth is that America was blundered into the Afghan War under President George W. Bush who needed a target for revenge after the humiliating 9/11 attacks.

Gen. Nicholson, during a testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, has called the war a “stalemate” and said he needs a “few thousand” additional troops. Heading into its 16th year, the war in Afghanistan is the longest war in the US history.

Retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former head of NATO and an NBC News analyst, suggested the delay in finalizing a strategy has hurt US efforts in the war.

“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,” Admiral Stavridis said.

“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.”

Though, officials say the president’s team has coalesced around a workable Afghan strategy, where it had presented him with other options as well such as complete withdrawal. Trump, however, appeared to have been significantly influenced by a meeting he recently had with a group of veterans of the Afghanistan war, and he was unhappy with the options presented to him.

Lindsey Graham, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee reiterates that, “If the president doesn’t listen to the generals, like Gen. Nicholson and he goes down the road that President Obama went, Afghanistan is going to collapse”. “Here’s my advice to the president — listen to people like Gen. Nicholson and McMaster and others who have been in the fight.”

Trump had better come up with a better idea. Eric Margolis suggests the absolute solution to end the 17-year war in his recent article which I endorse is to emulate the example of the courageous Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. He pronounced his Afghan War unwinnable, told his angry generals to shut up, and ordered the Red Army out of the war in Afghanistan.

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