Inside the White House: How Trump Took Command to Get the Afghanistan Plan He Wanted

Mohammad Jan Aria/Xinhua via ZUMA

When Donald Trump took office, he asked his generals for a new plan in Afghanistan. Here is how I imagine things have gone since then:

March
GENERALS: Not much more we can do. Maybe a few additional troops. Push harder on Pakistan. Stop worrying so much about civilian casualties.
TRUMP: Try again.

April
GENERALS: Not much more we can do. Maybe a few additional troops. Push harder on Pakistan. Stop worrying so much about civilian casualties.
TRUMP: Not good enough.

May
GENERALS: Not much more we can do. Maybe a few additional troops. Push harder on Pakistan. Stop worrying so much about civilian casualties.
TRUMP: You have to do better.

June
GENERALS: Not much more we can do. Maybe a few additional troops. Push harder on Pakistan. Stop worrying so much about civilian casualties.
TRUMP: Goddamit, I want to kick some ass!

July
GENERALS: Not much more we can do. Maybe a few additional troops. Push harder on Pakistan. Stop worrying so much about civilian casualties.
TRUMP: Fine. Where’s my speechwriter?

August
TRUMP: Today I am announcing a bold, new plan for total victory in Afghanistan. We will stop talking about troop levels. We will stop coddling Pakistan. We will unleash our military. And we will win.

There really isn’t a whole lot we can do in Afghanistan. The Pentagon knows this. After all, a few years ago they had upwards of 100,000 troops there—compared to 8,000 right now—and it barely budged the needle. They’ve been pushing on Pakistan the whole time, but if they push too hard we’ll lose our drone bases there and be in even worse shape. And looser rules of engagement just enrage the Afghan populace and provide the Taliban with recruiting material. It’s a no-win situation. All we can do is keep on training the Afghan army and cross our fingers. Maybe eventually the government will have enough support and the army will have enough discipline to maintain order without us.

Or we can pull out. If we do that, the Taliban will take over in short order and that’s politically unacceptable. No American president wants to be the guy who “lost Afghanistan.”

So we just stay there forever, fighting a low-level war meant to contain the Taliban—barely—and not get too many US soldiers killed. That’s what Bush did. It’s what Obama did. And it’s what Trump is doing.

UPDATE: In other words, this, from the Washington Post:

President Trump was frustrated and fuming. Again and again, in the windowless Situation Room at the White House, he lashed out at his national security team over the Afghanistan war, and the paucity of appealing options gnawed at him.

….Trump’s private deliberations — detailed in interviews with more than a dozen senior administration officials and outside allies — revealed a president un­attached to any particular foreign-policy doctrine, but willing to be persuaded as long as he could be seen as a strong and decisive leader.

As long as it makes him look good, Trump doesn’t really care what we do in Afghanistan.