Aidan Turek ’20
In December of last year, President Trump announced an unexpected withdrawal of American forces from Syria, and earlier this year announced that peace was at hand in Afghanistan. On Jan. 31, 2019, the Senate advanced legislation which expresses opposition to Trump’s handling of the war in Afghanistan in a 68 to 23 vote with wide bipartisan support, evidencing strong opposition on Capitol Hill to Trump’s foreign policy, which this columnist has earlier described as lacking cogency and direction.
The resignation of Secretary of Defense Mattis, widely portrayed as a cool head in a mercurial White House, further destabilizes Trump’s doctrine of ‘principled realism.’ American troops have been in Afghanistan since 2001, fighting against Taliban insurgents who provided support and protection for Osama bin Laden. The recent decision by the President to withdraw around 7,000 troops, out of a force numbering 14,000, has been followed up by indications that a peace settlement is close to completion. This peace is farcical, and, far from reflecting the realities of the 17-year-long war in Afghanistan, peace will be achieved for domestic political gain at the cost of both the combat mission men and women have fought and died for, as well as the peace and freedom the Afghani people deserve. There are valuable parallels to be drawn from Vietnam, a conflict which has indelibly shaped American foreign policy to this day.
The Paris Peace Accords were signed in January of 1973, ending direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. That peace was signed without consulting the government of South Vietnam—exactly like current peace talks with the Taliban—and precipitated the collapse of the South, the raison d’etre for American involvement. The withdrawal of ground forces, without proper arming and training of the forces of South Vietnam, made possible the military intervention of North Vietnam and the unification of Vietnam under the oppressive banner of communism. The peace talks were aimed not at ending the conflict but solely American involvement—and responsibility—in that conflict.
The President tweeted on the Feb. 1 that “I inherited a total mess in Syria and Afghanistan, the “Endless Wars” of unlimited spending and death. …We spend $50 Billion a year in Afghanistan and have hit them so hard that we are now talking peace.” This is a fiction which fails to take into account basic military realities. 2019 marks a low point in NATO deployments in Afghanistan, while the Afghan National Defense Force continues to rely heavily on American support. Currently, American airstrikes are at their highest level since the beginning of the conflict, evidence not that “we… have hit them so hard” but that ground forces, both American, NATO, and Afghani, are incapable of practical operations against Taliban strongholds.
To again refer to Vietnam, the American airstrikes that bolstered Southern defenses during the Easter Offensive in 1972 disappeared during the 1975 invasion, completely undermining the self-defense of our allies. Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, USMC, and incoming commander for forces in Afghanistan, was reported in the The New York Times as stating, “if we left precipitously right now, I do not believe they would be able to successfully defend their country.”
The near-term withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan will leave a dangerous vacuum which the Afghani Defense Force is simply unprepared to meet. The Taliban will make invaluable gains—gains which will bear fruit when the conflict between the Afghani government and the Taliban resumes. Trump’s peace talks are evidence of American weakness, a tangible demonstration that short-term political benefits from ending current U.S. involvement outweigh, from the President’s perspective, the very real possibility that the Afghani people will be returned to a state of oppression by an organization that refuses to distance itself from Al-Qaeda and global terrorism. Trump’s withdrawal is a cynical move that ignores military realities and the credibility of America as leader of the free world. It is a move motivated by a short-sightedness which does great disservice to the brave Americans who gave their last full measure, just for their mission to be sold for popularity.