BY M.R. JOSSE
NEW YORK, NY: Last week, I briefly referred to American President Donald Trump’s recent resolution to soldier on in Afghanistan, where the US has been enmeshed in a deadly conflict. That began shortly after al-Qaida’s September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on America, hatched in that country.
The mesmerising sneak assault on America, leaving nearly 3,000 dead, has, in its wake, hugely influenced the ebb and flow of international relations with ripple effects radiating far from the shores of the US and the hotspots or epicentres of Islamic ferment or jihad.
To comprehend fully the import of Trump’s recent decision to moderately increase America’s military involvement in that beleaguered nation, it may be useful at the outset to note that Afghanistan has become American’s longest war in history. Trump has, incidentally, become the third consecutive commander-in-chief to authorize a major deployment of American troops.
Trump, of course, inherited the never-ending war in Afghanistan along with his presidency. In fact, with his aforementioned commitment, made in a nationally broadcast address last week, he has squarely placed the albatross that is Afghanistan around his neck.
Apart from the protracted timeline of the war in Afghanistan – with its humungous cost in American lives and money – it has sucked much of the oxygen of political life in America, and, hardly surprisingly, led to a general sense of war-weariness among ordinary citizens.
To more fully appreciate the significance of Trump’s decision to stay the course in Afghanistan one must refer to his metamorphosis on the issue. Thus, in 2013 he had stated: “We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let us get out!”
Trump clung to that view through his election and inauguration, until the top US commander in the field Gen. John Nicholson earlier in the year warned Congress that the conflict was a ‘stalemate’ and called for a fresh infusion of personnel.
That set the stage for a major review by the Pentagon, a study that lasted several months. Ultimately, following the Pentagon’s recommendation, Trump concluded that deepening America’s commitment to the nearly 16-year war was the right decision. As he explained, his “original instinct was to pull out” but decided to deploy more troops there – reported to be about 4,000, taking their total strength to about 12,000.
Trump argued that “without the US presence in Afghanistan, al-Qaida, ISIS and the Taliban and other Islamic militants would use Afghanistan to stage attacks on the West – specifically the United States – as happened prior to the terror attack on September 11, 2001.”
How, if at all, does any of this matter to the world, and our region in particular? First of all, to my mind, its underlines that the world’s only Super Power cannot – or does not – simply or easily walk away from a major military/economic commitment that involves not only its prestige and credibility but also has vital national security ramifications.
Clearly, while a reminder of such a staunch geopolitical verity is of primary consequence to the principals involved in Afghanistan – including the government and jihadists – it should be noted by others as well, such as Pakistan, Iran, India, China and Russia on her periphery.
Yet, it is possible to argue that America will only stay on, a la Afghanistan, anywhere, if doing so is in her national interest: if the cost were to be unaffordably out of reach, there would be no guarantee that the US would continue to engage indefinitely.
In the above context, Vietnam and Korea come to mind: the former being an example where it became America’s interest to cut her losses and withdraw, albeit after a face-saving peace agreement. American forces while not engaged in a hot war on the Korean peninsula are still around, as they have been since 1950.
In other words, circumstances on the ground, not time or just troop levels, would be the determining factors vis-à-vis American military engagement overseas.
Changing gears, note that Trump asserted that the US would not “use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands or try to rebuild other countries in our own image” – a sarcastic reference to the so-called ‘nation building’ efforts of previous administrations.
It would seem logical, therefore, to assume that Trump’s America would not reflexively – as many in India, and perhaps Nepal, imagine – side with democratic India against communist China. Neither would she be tempted to take on China, merely for India’s sake. To me, that’s a no brainer!
Domestically, America seems tragically divided, as was transparently indicated by a violent clash mid-August at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. – an encounter that caused Trump to lose his cool, fanning the flames of primitive passions and torpedoing national unity.
Time magazine, against that sombre backcloth, came out with a brilliant cover story ‘Hate in America’ with a spate of illuminating write-ups by a galaxy of knowledgeable contributors.
Here, I quote excerpts from just one: Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota state representative and first Somali-American Muslim lawmaker.
“We need to recognize that racism has never been subtle, though it has gone under-reported. This is the same fight as the civil rights movement, the Civil War – we are fighting over human rights. So the solution is not compromise.
“The solution is to educate. It is imperative we collectively overcome and make amends with history. We must confront that our nation was founded by the genocide of indigenous people and on the backs of slaves, that we maintain global power with the tenor of neocolonialism. Our failure to reconcile these facts and our failure to take overt action to correct mistakes further deepen the divide…
“It is possible (to bridge the racial divide), but it will take a long time…”
A damning verdict? Yet, one that is freely ventilated by a premier newsmagazine. Only in America!