The 'Afghan Trap' Will Ensnare Trump Like It Did With His Predecessors

The new strategy that President Trump plans to implement is very risky.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Until last week, Donald Trump’s strong critique of America’s war in Afghanistan was one of the only instances in which the unpopular president could find support outside his base. But in a televised speech delivered to the nation that included few tactical specifics, Trump declared that instead of ending the occupation, he would escalate the conflict by using “overwhelming force” to stop nation-building and focus on “killing terrorists.”

The “Trump Doctrine,” as some journalists dubbed it, is a myopic analysis of the conflict in Afghanistan. It fails to challenge historical evidence that prolonged military action in the country has proven unwinnable to major empires for centuries. Furthermore, it has the potential to exhaust U.S. military capacity at a time when global threats from elsewhere in the Middle East and Asia require significant resources and are reconfiguring alliances.

If the West continues to regard the Taliban as bloodthirsty suicide bombers, we will never be able to understand the essence of the events taking place in Afghanistan. Today, it is not only about pacifying fire and sword, but with words and bread. It is about pacifying the intra-Afghani confrontation.

American troops entered Afghanistan in 2001, and after 10 years, President Barack Obama decided to stop “Operation Enduring Freedom” and withdraw troops. The Trump Doctrine negates Obama’s policy, meaning the 16-year war in Afghanistan will continue to be the longest military operation in the history of the United States.

It should be emphasized that during the presidential campaign, Trump promised the departure of the United States from places where they were involved in military conflicts as part of his “America First” philosophy. He also repeatedly expressed via Twitter that the army of the United States must leave Afghanistan, as he did in this post from March of 2013.

The new strategy that President Trump plans to implement is very risky. An increase in the number of U.S. forces without any military success could have severe consequences.

Trump may arguably be a good businessman, but he clearly has a short military and political memory. Like the Indians, Mongols and Britons before him, Trump has positioned himself and his country in an “Afghan trap.” No matter which forces came to Afghanistan, the country remains undefeated. Even a powerful Soviet Empire which, unlike the American soldiers, went out on daily combat assignments could not defeat the Afghans for decades.

The “Afghan trap” is a potential political threat for Trump, too. Earlier in Afghanistan, there were 130,000 international soldiers, mostly Americans, and nothing could be done. If the 100,000-strong contingent failed to make a difference in the situation in Afghanistan for the better, then how can Trump be confident that new soldiers will be different? Even if he plans to increase the strength of the army in Afghanistan by another 4,000, this is unlikely to change anything. Such actions are likely to be erroneous and don’t involve further development. Sooner or later the U.S. army will leave Afghanistan. Only the cost in lives and dollars will continue.

American society seems to strongly object to Trump’s decision. How long can he kowtow to his base while rejecting the majority of public opinion?

Trump’s troubles won’t be confined to the folks at home, either. Russia, China, North Korea, India, Pakistan, and the Gulf Nations will be watching intently as the U.S. delivers this “overwhelming force.”

Afghanistan was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia. Russia always closely monitors developments in Afghanistan. The Trump Administration ignored Moscow’s invitation to participate in these consultations, citing the lack of prior agreement on the goals of the Russian initiative. For Russia, there is a serious danger of the penetration of radical groups from Afghanistan into the Central Asian republics. Afghanistan is also a threat from the point of view of drug trafficking: about 50 percent of drugs in Russia are produced there. Despite this, Russia continues to cooperate with the state of Afghanistan.

The Trump Doctrine also impacts the interests of China. Recently, the U.S. actively escalated tensions in North Korea, a hotbed on the Chinese border. Ramping up conflict in Afghanistan comes at a time when China is making economic alliances with Afghanistan on two key initiatives. Beijing and Kabul are part of the trillion dollar infrastructure project, the Silk Road Economic Belt as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

As this collaboration continues, the U.S. has shifted its previous emphasis on rebuilding Afghanistan to investing in India. Trump mentioned a strategic partnership with India in his Afghanistan speech, which will undoubtedly cause problems for Washington’s complicated relationship with Pakistan. In addition, Pakistan is increasingly developing relations with China and moving away from the U.S., so this may be an attempt at warning Pakistan to temper surging relations with China.

We should not forget that Afghanistan is very strategically located geographically. The nation’s bases and airfields give the U.S. a very serious strategic advantage as a way for the United States to position itself in South Asia.

Relying on the Afghan Civil War between the government and the Taliban to play itself out is not a very effective strategy in the modern world. During the fighting in Afghanistan, more than 2,300 American soldiers were killed, as well as more than 1,000 military coalition forces and more than 30,000 Afghan soldiers. The war also claimed the lives of at least 31,000 peaceful Afghans.

Bullets and bombs in Afghanistan have no historical precedent of efficacy. Enduring change is only possible if humanity understands that all the warring parties in Afghanistan should be seated at the negotiating table, and agree once and for all on the establishment of a government the people can trust. As it was with IRA in Ireland and the ETA in Spain, or recently FARC in Colombia. If Trump did this in Afghanistan instead of sending troops, then he would be a true world leader.