According to reports, Gen. H. R. McMaster convinced President Trump to give up his longstanding opposition to the Afghan war by showing him this photograph, below, of Afghan women in what the media are describing as “miniskirts.” As the Washington Post put it:
One of the ways McMaster tried to persuade Trump to recommit to the effort was by convincing him that Afghanistan was not a hopeless place. He presented Trump with a black-and-white snapshot from 1972 of Afghan women in miniskirts walking through Kabul, to show him that Western norms had existed there before and could return.
The irony is that, in 1972, when this photo was taken on the grounds of Kabul University, Afghanistan was firmly in the orbit of the Soviet Union, as it had been since 1953, when Prime Minister Mohammed Daoud Khan rose to power and instituted a series of progressive reforms, including equal rights for women. The next year, Khan deposed King Mohammed Zahir Shah, and Soviet aid poured in, alongside the Red Army.
More irony: it was the United States, alongside Washington’s then-ally Osama bin Laden, that overthrew the communist regime, and conducted a guerrilla war against the Afghan government and their Soviet sponsors. The last Soviet troops left in 1989 — and there were no more miniskirts to be seen anywhere in Afghanistan.
Gen. McMaster knows all this: our President does not. Does McMaster think he can bring communism back to Afghanistan? I jest, but with serious intent. Because the commies attempted what our President has vowed not to do in Afghanistan: they sought to create a nation out of a collection of mountain-guarded valleys, isolated bastions untouched by time or the vaunted ambitions of their many would-be conquerors.
Here is Trump, trying to justify the prolongation of the longest war in our history:
I am here to talk about tonight, that nearly 16 years after September 11 attacks, after the extraordinary sacrifice of blood and treasure, the American people are weary of war without victory.
Nowhere is this more evident than with the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history – 17 years. I share the American people’s frustration. I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money, and most importantly, lives trying to rebuild countries in our own image instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations.
How to reconcile this abjuration of hubris with that photo of mini-skirted Afghan women? It can’t be done, but then again Trump is all about contradictions:
Shortly after my inauguration, I directed Secretary of Defense Mattis and my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of all strategic options in Afghanistan and South Asia.
My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts. But all my life, I have heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the oval office. In other words, when you are president of the United States.
Has such a confession of betrayal ever been uttered by a public figure? For years he told us Afghanistan was a waste of lives and treasure, and that we had to get out. And now he’s flip-flopped because McMaster showed him a photo of Afghan women in mini-skirts! Oh, how easy it was – too easy!
“So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle,” he claims. Really? Did he study it enough to realize that no one has ever conquered Afghanistan? Did he contemplate the storied history of that unforgiving land, which caused even Alexander the Great to turn back? Did he study the provenance and context of that photograph, in which Afghan women dared to show their knees?
Of course not!
“After many meetings over many months,” Trump continued,
[W]e held our final meeting last Friday at Camp David with my cabinet and generals to complete our strategy. I arrived at three fundamental conclusions about America’s core interests in Afghanistan.
First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives. The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory. They deserve the tools they need and the trust they have earned to fight and to win.
What is the moral meaning of this? That lives wasted in a futile crusade must be matched by yet more sacrifices on the altar of the war god? We are told that Trump met with five enlisted soldiers before making his decision to go along with the generals’ war plan: I’d like to know what they said. The White House won’t tell us.
From this moral inversion Trump descends into an inversion of the facts:
Second, the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists. A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks were planned and directed from Hamburg, Germany, and right here in the United States – indeed, not too far from Mar-a-Lago — not Afghanistan. This “safe haven” argument is so tattered and overused that it comes apart under the most cursory inspection. And what are we to make of someone who describes ending a 16-year war as “a hasty withdrawal”?
We are then treated to the myth of “victory denied in Iraq,” which attributes the rise of ISIS to US withdrawal from Iraq – when it reality ISIS was created by our “ally” Saudi Arabia and the Arab sheikhs of the Gulf states who have funded and encouraged their co-co-religionists in the Sunni-versus-Shi’ite civil war that has sundered the Muslim world. And of course there would be no ISIS if not for the invasion of Iraq – but even Trump knows this quite well.
Drifting off into vague threats against Pakistan, Trump reiterates his determination to solve “big and intricate problems.” But how? How will it be different, this time?
As a result of our comprehensive review, American strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia will change dramatically in the following ways: A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions. I’ve said it many times, how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin or end military operations.
We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.
A child could see through this rodomontade. Because unless we intend to stay in Afghanistan forever, what is to prevent the Taliban from simply waiting us out? We have to leave sometime. So what is the purpose of this vow of silence? It is simply to keep the truth from the American people. We won’t know how many troops are in Afghanistan, nor will we know when more are sent in: it’s all to be conducted under the radar, so that Trump’s voters – who took seriously his tirades against foreign wars – won’t know the extent to which he has betrayed his mandate, and them.
The absurdities accumulate like refuse during a garbage strike:
“We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.” Yet Gen. McMaster, a disciple of Gen. David Petraeus and his “COINdistas,” are the original nation-builders – aside from the Soviets, that is, from whom they cadged their “strategy.”
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the same terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change. And that will change immediately.” No it won’t. Remember when Sen. Rand Paul tried to end US aid to Pakistan? It didn’t happen then and it won’t happen now.
“As the prime minister of Afghanistan has promised, we are going to participate in economic development to help defray the cost of this war to us.” So Afghanistan is going to pay for this war, just like Mexico is going to pay for the Great Wall of Texas! In your dreams, Mr. President.
“Our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check.” The history of the past 16 years refutes this, as does the content of the President’s peroration. Of course we’re giving them a blank check: that’s because the Afghan government only has such resources as we give to it. And since Trump is refusing to say when or even if we’re leaving, then our commitment is indeed potentially unlimited. Does he imagine our Afghan puppets, who are happily stealing us blind, don’t know this?<
I can’t bear to go on cataloging the lies, the contradictions, the flip-flops – it pains me to even think about it, much less write about it. The “America First” foreign policy Trump promised during the campaign is just a memory, and his baffled supporters are left to contemplate the most brazen betrayal in modern American political history.
Yet there are some benefits, here, for anti-interventionists to reap, which may not be readily apparent. Because Trump’s supporters, who took seriously his anti-interventionist rhetoric, are now wondering what hit them. They had to go through this experience: betrayal can be enlightening.