Last night Comrade Trump once again inflicted himself on the public. He read a speech (and damn, it’s physically painful to watch that guy struggle with the written word — and it’s pathetic how often the written word exceeds his ability to read it) in which he gave a vague outline of an approach to the colossal ongoing fuck-up in Afghanistan.
But let’s ignore the excruciating delivery of last night’s speech. Let’s also ignore the lies and bullshit peppered throughout the speech (though the lies and bullshit are deserving of attention). Let’s just look at Trump’s central point:
We will break their will, dry up their recruitment, keep them from crossing our borders, and yes, we will defeat them, and we will defeat them handily.
Yeah, no, none of that is going to happen. We won’t break their will. The British didn’t; they fought three wars against various Afghan factions over a period of 80 years — from 1839 to 1919 — and never broke their will. The Russians didn’t; they fought a really brutal war against the Afghans for almost a decade — from 1979 to 1989 — and never broke their will. The U.S. has been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001 — nearly sixteen years — and we haven’t broken their will yet. It just ain’t gonna happen. We need to accept that reality.
And no, we won’t dry up their recruitment. An ongoing war that’s often depicted as a war against Islam is, by its very nature, a self-sustaining recruitment campaign. The fact that Comrade Trump his ownself reinforces the notion that it’s a war against Islam only bolsters their recruitment. We need to accept that reality too.
And no, we won’t keep them (whoever they are) from crossing our borders. Even if we enact some truly abhorrent and draconian immigration laws, it’s impossible to fully protect the borders of the U.S. The border with Mexico is about two thousand miles long; the border with Canada is about twice that. And those are just the land borders. Getting into the U.S. is even easier from the sea. One more reality we need to accept.
Acceptance doesn’t mean we should give up. It just means we need to set realistic goals. It’s stupid to make public statements that we’re going to absolutely do something we absolutely can’t do. So no, we won’t keep them from crossing out borders, we won’t dry up their recruitment, and we won’t break their will. All of which is to say no, we won’t defeat them either, no matter what Trump might say.
There are a LOT of reasons why the U.S. can’t win a war in Afghanistan, but there’s one overarching reason — and it’s actually something Comrade Trump alluded to in his speech (well, the speech somebody wrote for him). He said the U.S. cannot allow our Afghan enemies to:
…believe they can wait us out.
But they already believe they can wait us out. And they’re right. They can wait us out. The same way they’ve waited out every attempt to invade and conquer the region over the last couple of thousand years. There’s a reason Afghanistan is known by historians as the ‘graveyard of empires’.
Alexander the Great invaded it some three hundred years before the Common Era and managed to hold parts of it…for a while. Genghis Khan did the same in the 13th Century and managed to rule parts of it…for a while. Tamerlane did the same a century later, and the Mogul emperors after that, and the Sikhs after that. They all held various bits and chunks of the territory…for a while. Then the British noodled in, and we know what happened to them. Then the Russians. Now the U.S. is there.
Same shit, different invader. In almost every invasion, the Afghan tribes have been outgunned, out-technologied, out-resourced, and often out-fought. But they’ve never been out-waited. Never.
Why? Because they’re operating on a radically different understanding of time and place than the invaders. They live there. They know the invaders, regardless of who they are or where they’re from, will eventually want to leave. The simple fact is the Afghans don’t need to win; they only need to persist. If it takes a generation or two of low intensity guerrilla warfare until their enemies get fed up and find a reason to go home, they’re okay with that. They’ve done it before.
“Afghans will secure and build their own nation, and define their own future.”
That’s from Trump’s speech, and it’s a classic case of stupidity fed by willful blindness. The Afghans have been securing and building their own nation for a couple thousand years. They are defining their future. Right now that definition includes killing U.S. and NATO troops and booting us out of their country. There’s yet another reality we need to accept.
Trump read a speech — he read it very badly, not that it matters — and that speech will have as much effect on the outcome of the Afghanistan conflict as his troop increase. No effect at all, except to extend the pain a bit farther into the future.
The world has changed, of course. The U.S. isn’t going to suffer any apocalyptic Retreat from Kabul, we’re not going to face any Battle of Maiwand. We’re just going to face a slow episodic bleed — and the bleeding will be contained within the small proportion of the citizenry that volunteers to serve in the military. Which means most folks won’t care.
So there it is. No effect at all.