Trump Temporizes in Afghanistan

Secretary of State Tillerson has made it clear that the U.S. is in Afghanistan to deny victory to the Taliban even if the U.S. isn’t victorious. In other words, the U.S. policy is to buy time by indefinite stalemate. The hope behind this policy is that the U.S. can negotiate a face-saving exit from Afghanistan.

The U.S. wants Kabul, the Taliban and Islamabad to come to terms politically and stop fighting. The Taliban won’t do this if they can continue to gain ground using current tactics and if Islamabad supports them. They’ll do it but only as a temporary measure if they think that under cover of peace they can gain ground and eventually take over, as North Vietnam took over South Vietnam 2 years after concluding an agreement with the U.S. The Taliban have a strong home court advantage.

Trump said he’s out to kill terrorists, not nation-build. That’s an admission of failure because the U.S. cannot defeat the Taliban without the partnership of a strong Afghan state on the ground in Afghanistan that has effective and substantial armed forces. These essential conditions do not exist. That is to say, the U.S. can’t defeat the Taliban at any reasonable cost. Sending in huge forces is out of the question. Bombing the whole country into oblivion is likewise out of the question.

The Taliban will continue to build their own nation-state in this vacuum, that is, in the face of the weak and corrupt Afghan government. They will chip away at Afghan and U.S. pockets of strength. The U.S. has failed at building a viable Afghan state. This was a foreseeable blunder, repeated in Iraq and Libya. Vietnam was an earlier dramatic example that the U.S. cannot build states as a general rule and under most conditions. Haiti has been a longstanding example of this. When a country is completely flat on its back and when it has a homogeneous society and when it has a prior tradition of a strong state, then it’s possible that a new nation-state can emerge on terms heavily-influenced by the U.S. Japan and West Germany show this. But under other conditions, such as non-homogeneous societies that have been held together by strongmen rulers, such is not the case. In the case of Afghanistan, the prior tradition of a strong state has been absent and there are tribal divisions. These have spelled the failure of the U.S. to build a nation-state.

Trump now says that the U.S. doesn’t aim to nation-build in Afghanistan. This is a welcome statement, but he cannot by himself change the empire’s course, even if he wanted to. Not only is he surrounded by advocates of empire, but also he doesn’t have a clear aim of accomplishing the goal of downsizing the empire. Parts of the U.S. government still harbor frustrated desires of nation-building. Nation-building is strongly embedded in the U.S. military structure and doctrine. That now shows up in the U.S. training of military forces in many countries in Africa. This doctrine is part and parcel of the larger political ambitions of the U.S. government. The military forward strategy is an arm of the embracing octopus of empire along side of programs of “aid”, treaties of defense, arms sales, bank loans, trade agreements and sanctions.


8:42 am on August 24, 2017