In America’s Afghanistan, it’s all history ― the future as well as the past, what’s going to happen, as well as what’s happened in these last nearly 16 years of war. You’ve heard it all before: there were the various “surges” (though once upon a time sold as paths to victory, not simply to break a “stalemate”); there were the insider, or “green-on-blue,” attacks in which Afghans trained, advised, and often armed by the U.S. turned their weapons on their mentors (two such incidents in the last month resulted in three dead American soldiers and more wounded); there were the Afghan ghost soldiers, ghost police, ghost students, and ghost teachers (all existing only on paper, the money for them ponied up by U.S. taxpayers but always in someone else’s pocket); and there was that never-ending national “reconstruction” program that long ago outspent the famed Marshall Plan, which helped put all of Western Europe back on its feet after World War II. It included projects for roads to nowhere, gas stations built in the middle of nowhere, and those Pentagon-produced, forest-patterned camouflage outfits for the Afghan army in a land only 2.1% forested. (The design was, it turns out, favored by the Afghan defense minister of the moment and his fashion statement cost U.S. taxpayers a mere $28 million more than it would have cost to produce other freely available, more appropriate designs.)
And that, of course, is just to begin the distinctly bumpy drive down America’s Afghan highway to nowhere. Don’t even speak to me, for instance, about the $8.5 billion that the U.S. sunk into efforts to suppress the opium crop in a country where the drug trade now flourishes.
And considering those failed surges, those repeated insider attacks, those ghost soldiers and ghost roads and ghost drug programs in the longest conflict in American history, the one that most people in this country have turned into a ghost war (and that neither of the candidates for president in 2016 even bothered to discuss on the campaign trail), what do you suppose Donald Trump’s generals have in mind when it comes to the future?
For that, let me turn you over to a man who, in 2011, in one of those surge moments, fought in Afghanistan: Army Major Danny Sjursen, author of Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Let him remind you in “Tread Carefully” of how that war once looked from the ground up and of what lessons were carefully not drawn from such experiences. Let him consider the eagerness of the generals to whom our new president has ceded decision-making on U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan to... well, let’s not say “surge,” since that word now has such negative connotations, but send thousands more U.S. troops into that country in a... well, what about a “resurge” in already vain hopes of... well... an American resurgence in that country.