The Same Ol’ Afghan War Fallacies

Unless President Trump can pull off a peace deal with the Taliban, his Afghan War policy is following the same bloody and futile path that his predecessors took, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar describes.

By Paul R. Pillar

President Trump’s statement on Afghanistan has numerous shortcomings. It portrays as a “new strategy” what is instead a familiar kicking of a can down the road. It combines Trump’s habit of heaping blame on his predecessors with a warmed-over version of what those predecessors did in Afghanistan.

President Donald Trump describing his policy toward the Afghan War, at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, on Aug. 21, 2017. (Screenshot from Whitehouse.gov)

It declares a determination to “win” while leaving one guessing as to exactly what a win would mean in Afghanistan. It fails to address underlying problems of governance in that country. It gives no basis for expecting or even hoping that the U.S. military expedition there will not go on forever.

Added to these features is a further notion that Trump shares with many others, including observers who in other respects are critical of his policy. This is the idea that there is a direct connection between extremists having a physical presence in a distant land and the United States facing a terrorist threat at home.

Trump used the term safe haven four times in his speech. He declared that the basic purpose of the military expedition in Afghanistan was, “We must stop the resurgence of safe havens that enable terrorists to threaten America.”

One hears this same idea over and over. The current U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, General John W. Nicholson, Jr., says, “The requirement to keep pressure on these terror groups to prevent another attack on our homeland .?.?. fundamentally, that is why we are here.” Such statements — and not only about Afghanistan — are minor rephrasing of the old notion of “fight them over there or else we’ll have to fight them at home.”

That notion is not valid, and never has been. The very physical distance involved works against the relevance of foreign havens to terrorist threats against the homeland. One cannot drive a…

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