Trump Announces Brand-New Same-Old Strategy in Afghanistan

So what is President Trump’s long-awaited new plan for Afghanistan? In a half-hour prime-time speech, he didn’t really say. Trump started out by complaining a bit, saying that he had been dealt “a bad and very complex hand,” but one he’d fix because “I’m a problem solver.” The solution, however, was pretty vague. Here were the main changes he announced:

  • We will shift from a time-based strategy to one based on conditions. In other words, we may just stay in Afghanistan forever.
  • We will no longer talk about numbers of troops. This is most likely because the increase in troops he approved was so minuscule as to be pointless.
  • Trump will bring to bear all elements of American power: diplomatic, economic, military. We’ve been doing this for the past decade, but whatevs.
  • There will be no more coddling of Pakistan. How? By threatening to cut off money, it sounds like.
  • There will be no more micromanagement from Washington. The subtext here is that if we don’t make progress, we should blame Mattis, not Trump.
  • The rules of engagement will be loosened, though it’s unclear how.
  • There will be no more nation building. We’re killing bad guys, and that’s all.
  • But we’ll keep giving lots of money to Afghanistan for, um, bation nuilding.
  • “Victory will have a clear definition,” Trump said, though he didn’t really say what that is. However, it appears to mean that ISIS and al-Qaeda are wiped out, the Taliban is transformed into a bunch of moderates, and there is no possibility of new terrorist groups emerging. That sounds good, but it’s just hot air. It will never happen.

All snark aside, I have no idea what this means. There were no details, just a lot of generalized tough talk. Trump basically promised to accept nothing less than total victory, but there seems to be very little in his plan that’s different from what we’re doing already. The only potentially new item was his promise to force Pakistan to stop giving a safe haven to terrorists. We’ll see what that means in practice.

He did, however, take credit for our recent success in Mosul, which certainly takes some chutzpah. The Mosul offensive was entirely an Obama operation, and one that Trump had nothing but contempt for in the past. But it worked, so now it’s a Trump victory.