Last week President Trump laid out his new strategy for Afghanistan. Actually, it wasn’t his and it wasn’t a strategy. His strategy, one he talked about numerous times during his campaign, was to get out of what he correctly called a futile war. The “strategy” he laid out last week was, as his speech made clear, not his but his generals’. He abandoned his (usually right) instincts and deferred to them. He might want to ask Kaiser Wilhelm II how that worked out for him.
The generals’ strategy reflected what the Pentagon defines as strategy, which is to do more of the same thing tactically. This is the classic, Second Generation war “strategy” of accumulating kills in a war of attrition. We will “take the gloves off”, put more long range, remote firepower on more targets and thereby move more quickly to defeat at the moral level. There is no surer way to lose a Fourth Generation war. But it is all the U.S. military knows how to do. It’s a one-trick pony, and its one trick is to poop on its own head.
If this were all the president had laid out, it would add up to nothing. Unfortunately, there is more. And that “more” is a recipe for strategic disaster.
President Trump was correct in saying the key to defeating the Taliban is cutting the cord that links it to Pakistan. As I have pointed out in previous columns, so long as Afghanistan is allied to India, Pakistan has no choice but to support the Taliban. A Taliban government will de-allign with India and ally with Pakistan, which is all that can save Pakistan from being caught in a two-front threat.
But instead of calling for Afghanistan to sever its Indian connection, President Trump, acting as the mouthpiece of his generals, said we are going to try harder to engage India in Afghanistan. Nothing could do more to push Pakistan and the Taliban closer together. Our new Afghan “strategy”directly contradicts itself.
If the only result of that contradiction were to make our Afghan war even more futile, that would be bad but not catastrophic. Regrettably, it points to an American defeat far worse than anything that can happen in Afghanistan. It promises further pressure on an already-fragile Pakistani state, with the potential of causing that state to collapse and turn Pakistan into another happy hunting ground for Fourth Generation entities — a happy hunting ground where the game is nuclear warheads.
All that currently holds Pakistan together is its military. If, as President Trump suggested, we are going to ramp up pressure on Pakistan to do what it cannot and renounce the Taliban, that pressure is likely to include cutting off money and weapons we now provide to Pakistan’s armed forces. Unless someone else steps in to fill the gap (perhaps China), that will weaken the only glue holding Pakistan together.
We have seen the disaster that results when we help destroy a state in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria, and in Afghanistan itself, where before 9/11 the Taliban had proved the only effective government since the monarchy fell. But the collapse of the Pakistani state would be far worse. In addition to loose nukes, we would face tens of millions of refugees, competent soldiers now for hire, mass murder on a vast scale (with Pakistan’s Christians first on the list) and God knows what else. As they saw their state disintegrating, Pakistan’s generals might decide to take out their old enemy India with them and nuke every Indian city. I am told the Indian military realizes that a failed state in Pakistan would be much more dangerous to them than is the Pakistani state, and for that reason have opposed a conventional war with Pakistan they know they would win.
But our generals do not seem to be as smart as Indian generals. The “strategy” they have foisted on a reluctant president is self-contradictory, potentially disastrous and just plain stupid. The president would have done better to take strategic advice from the good ladies who clean the White House, the nut cases in Lafayette Park, or the cabbages in Mrs. Obama’s White House garden. Or, better yet, listen to his own instincts. Had Kaiser Wilhelm II done that, the House of Hohenzollern would still be on the throne in Berlin, just as God intended.