Sunday, July 10, 2016

War without end: Neither Clinton nor Trump knows what to do about Afghanistan - Paul Waldman

Barack Obama came into office as not quite an anti-war candidate, but certainly a candidate advocating extricating ourselves from George W. Bush’s wars. He wanted to get out of Iraq as quickly as we reasonably could, which we did at the end of 2011. He also advocated focusing more on the war in Afghanistan, but always with an eye toward enabling a stable Afghan government to take complete control of the country so we could leave.

As he approaches the end of his eight years in office, that’s one goal Obama will not be achieving. Today he announced that the slow drawdown he had planned for will be even slower than we thought:

American troops have now been in Afghanistan for nearly 15 years. Over 2,300 of them gave their lives in this conflict. At the end of 2014, the Congressional Research Service calculated that we had spent $686 billion there; other  estimates  put the number over $1 trillion, and that was a year and a half ago. We went there to get Osama bin Laden — remember him? — and then when he escaped, we stayed to make sure Al Qaeda didn’t have a “safe haven” from which to attack the United States. Al Qaeda scattered to the wind, and became a kind of franchise operation that could set up almost anywhere, yet we stayed in Afghanistan, to help a usually corrupt and incompetent excuse for a government try to establish a hold on a seemingly ungovernable country. And we stayed, and stayed, and stayed.

No one doubts that President Obama himself is torn about this conflict. He’d love to be rid of it, but he doesn’t want to just pull our troops out altogether if it means the Taliban will quickly reestablish control. The idea was that by the time he left office we’d be all but gone: an embassy, a few military personnel to help and support the Afghans, and little else. But now we know that the task of figuring out what to do about Afghanistan will be left to the next president.

And what would Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump do? There’s only a passing mention of Afghanistan in the “national security”section of Clinton’s web site, a sentence fragment about “our commitment to Afghanistan’s democracy and security.” When she gave a major foreign policy speech a month ago, she didn’t mention Afghanistan at all. Other things she’s said recently don’t provide many more clues. “If we’ve learned anything from 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that local people and nations have to secure their own communities. We can help them, and we should, but we cannot substitute for them. But we can and should support local and regional ground forces in carrying out this mission” she said last November at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Which sounds a lot like what President Obama says, but doesn’t tell you whether she’d change his policy, or how she foresees American involvement there ever coming to an end.

As for Trump, it seems almost absurd to ask, since his comments on the topic reveal someone who has little more than the vague sense that Afghanistan is a country in Asia where Americans have been fighting. Back in 2013 he tweeted, “Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense!  Rebuild the USA.” During the primary campaign he said going there in the first place was a mistake, then denied having said it. “I never said it. Afghanistan is a different kettle. Afghanistan is next to Pakistan, it’s an entry in. You have to be careful with the nuclear weapons. It’s all about the nuclear weapons. By the way, without the nukes, it’s a whole different ballgame,” he said in October. “Do I love anything about it? No. I think it’s important, number one, that we keep a presence there and ideally a presence of pretty much what they’re talking about — 5,000 soldiers.” 

Trump’s first big foreign policy speech didn’t mention the country, and his second one brought it up only to note that the family of the killer in Orlando came from there, and we’re letting in too many Afghan refugees. So he has nothing resembling an Afghanistan policy. - Read More at the Washingtonpost

War without end: Neither Clinton nor Trump knows what to do about Afghanistan


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