While President Donald Trump's primetime speech Monday night offered few concrete details on his long-awaited "strategy" for America's 16-year war in Afghanistan, analysts were quick to point out that the address made several things "absolutely clear": the war—already the longest in American history—will continue indefinitely, many more civilians will die, and what little oversight currently exists will be greatly curtailed.
"Trump has now expanded U.S. military presence and/or airstrikes in every combat theater he inherited from Obama."
—Micah Zenko, Council on Foreign Relations
"Trump has already expanded U.S. bombing campaigns throughout the Middle East, authorizing drone strikes at a rate five times that of his predecessor, Barack Obama," writes The Intercept's Alex Emmons. "Civilian casualties in the war against ISIS are on track to double under Trump, according to the research by the group Airwars."
Trump's "plan" for Afghanistan—which reportedly includes an addition of around 4,000 American troops—will only continue this upward trend of civilian casualties, activists and commentators argued following the address, which was delivered before an audience of American troops at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia.
"After months of deliberation or procrastination from the administration on its Afghanistan strategy, President Trump announced the continuation of the same approach that's failed for the past 16 years," Jon Rainwater, executive director of Peace Action, said in a statement. "Not only has Trump failed to present a robust diplomatic strategy, but in reportedly authorizing an additional 4,000 troops in Afghanistan rather than continuing to drawdown, he's managed to make the arduous but vital task of achieving a negotiated settlement even more difficult."
Trump insisted Monday night that his plan to increase troop levels in Afghanistan runs against his "instinct," and that he did not want to provide a "blank check" for endless war.
But Spencer Ackerman, senior national security correspondent for The Daily Beast, argues that his blueprint offers precisely that.
"Trump is defining victory in terms of things the military must keep doing—attacking, obliterating, crushing, preventing, stopping. That gives the lie to Trump's hand-wave that 'our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check,'" Ackerman argued. "The only way for the Trumpist conception of victory to mean anything is for American troops to patrol Afghanistan indefinitely, until the ever elusive and indefinable point when their Afghan protégés can outlast the Taliban."
Throughout his campaign for the presidency and in years prior, Trump criticized the war in Afghanistan as a "waste" of money and a "total disaster" from which the U.S. should quickly withdraw. As president, however, his attitude has shifted.
As Common Dreams reported last month, Trump was initially enticed by the prospect of expanding U.S. involvement in Afghanistan with the goal of plundering the country's vast and largely untapped mineral reserves. Now Trump appears to have landed on the side of the generals who, as the Washington Post notes, "now dominate his inner circle."
As Andrew Bacevich, retired Army colonel and professor of history at Boston University, noted in his response to the announcement: "The principal effect of the ongoing war on terrorism has been to exacerbate the problem that it purports to solve. The entire enterprise has been what Trump once understood it to be: a terrible mistake, a total disaster and a complete waste. Now, in effect, he has recanted."
Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, agreed with Bacevich that the proposals Trump vaguely outlined Monday night, particularly his plan to loosen restrictions on the U.S. military, will almost certainly "harm civilians and increase terrorism" in Afghanistan.
"There is simply no reason to believe that a few thousand more American troops will somehow accomplish what has eluded us for 16 years in Afghanistan."
—Stephen Miles, Win Without WarThe "bottom line," Zenko concluded, is that "Trump has now expanded U.S. military presence and/or airstrikes in every combat theater he inherited from Obama."
Lawmakers and activists concluded Monday that Trump's "strategy" is little more than a continuation of previous administrations' commitment to a conflict without a military solution.
"There is simply no reason to believe that a few thousand more American troops will somehow accomplish what has eluded us for 16 years in Afghanistan," Stephen Miles, director of Win Without War, said in a statement. "The truth remains that there is no military solution to the challenges in Afghanistan."
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) agreed, saying she is "deeply troubled by President Trump’s failure to outline a comprehensive strategy to bring an end to our nation's longest war," and argued that "lasting peace in Afghanistan must be secured through diplomacy."