America has been at war in Afghanistan for 16 years long years, and after President Donald Trump’s nationally televised address on Monday it’s clear the fighting will continue for a while. That’s not good news, of course, but it could have been a lot worse.
It would have been worse news if Trump had announced he was keeping his oft-repeated campaign promise to concede defeat and allow the Taliban to reassume control of the country where their al-Qaeda allies planned and trained for the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Trump admitted in a fairly well-written speech that doing so remains his instinct, so it’s very good news that he allowed the more carefully reasoned and far-sighted analysis of his far more experienced advisors to dissuade his instincts for a change.
It’s also as good a bit of news as one can hope for at this point that Trump didn’t make any characteristically grandiose promises about how America’s going to be winning so much you’ll get bored with winning and that it’s going to be so quick and easy your head will spin. Winning in Afghanistan won’t require leaving a fully westernized and modern country, a far-fetched fantasy that Trump effectively ridiculed on the campaign trail, but any semblance of victory does require a reasonably sane Afghan government that can defend itself against the inevitable attempts to once again turn the country into a training ground for future Islamist terror attacks on America, and we are reassured that Trump has been made to realize even that more modest goal is still necessary and that even after 16 long years it still can’t be done quickly or easily. Trump didn’t give a Churchillian sort of speech to prepare the people for the long struggle ahead, but at least he overcame his instinct to make promises that can’t be kept.
There was the usual lack of any specificity in Trump’s address, but that’s probably good news as well. He hinted that more troops would be deployed, although probably not as many as his generals had requested and surely not enough to turn Afghanistan into a thoroughly modernized and westernized country, but at this point there’s no reason for us or the enemy to know with any more specificity that at least the fight will continue. He hinted that America would prosecute the war with more ruthlessly self-defensive rules of engagement, which we think wise, but the fairly well-written script didn’t include any historically unfounded talk about summarily executing prisoners of war with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, as Trump recently advised the Spaniards to do after a recent Islamist terror attack, and these days we also have to count that as good news.
Aside from the life-and-death consequences of war there are also political implications to be considered, and we expect Trump handled those well enough for a change.
If you’ve been following the Trump presidency reality show so far you know that he recently accepted the resignation of “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, a longtime champion of the inaptly named “America First” non-interventionist school of foreign policy that so aligned with Trump’s instincts, who had famously been feuding with the more experienced and knowledgeable and far-sighted and hawkish generals who were serving as Trump’s Defense Secretary and national security advisor and chief of staff, so that’s a big sidebar story that won’t amount to much. Bannon has returned to the editorship of the Brietbart.com news site, which did much to promote Trump’s candidacy and presidency among a certain readership, and is already running articles of the newly stated Trump policy, but at this point we don’t expect that Trump will lose the support of many of its readers.
The rest of the media probably won’t manage to do much harm, either. When America went to war in Afghanistan those 16 long years ago it was in response to that country providing haven for the planning and training of an attack on American soil even worse than the attack on Pearl Harbor that had forced America into World War II, and Republican President George W. Bush was authorized the use of military force with bi-partisan support. Although Democratic President Barack Obama had been a strident critic of America’s war in Iraq he also deployed more troops to Afghanistan, even if he did so at lower levels than the generals recommended and with ludicrous timelines and rules of engagement, and his congressional authorization also won bipartisan support. Even Trump can expect to get the same benefit of the doubt, and he won’t suffer any significant loss of support from the far-left and despite Bannon’s best efforts only a slight loss on the far-fight.
Besides, there’s bound to be a solar event or sports competition or debt ceiling debate or Russia revelation to divert the public’s attention coming soon. After 16 long years the public has become accustomed to waging war in Afghanistan, and has largely come to realize there are no quick paths to anything resembling a victory but no available way out of getting out that wouldn’t be disastrous, so its hard to fault Trump for overcoming his simultaneously noninterventionist and militaristic instincts and being led to the same conclusion.
Over the past long 16 years the war in Afghanistan has claimed more than 2,400 American lives, with far more life-altering casualties, and although each of them is a tragedy that should be honored and mourned and carefully considered there’s a ruthless mathematics to war that publics have always also acknowledged. At this rate the war will have to carry one for another century or so before it reaches the death toll that caused America to exit the shorter Vietnam War, and hardier previous generations sacrificed as many of their children on a bad afternoon at Gettysburg or a rough morning on the beaches of Normandy, so except for the occasional desultory address on national television by Republican and Democratic presidents alike the Afghanistan war will probably go on unnoticed by all but those few unlucky patriots who have to fight it.
We’ll hope for the best, though, and begrudgingly admit that at least Trump didn’t it make any worse.
— Bud Norman