Email #259: ”until the mission is done”?

Monday night President Trump announced his Afghanistan policy: “Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition — attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaida, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.”

But Afghan High Peace Council member Jamaluddin Badr said afterwards: “That’s the same strategy going on the last two decades. He said we’re going to win, but he didn’t make it clear how we’re going to win.”

By the end of 2001, President Bush had sent 2,500 troops into Afghanistan. By the end of his second term, that number had risen tenfold to 25,000. President Obama quadrupled that number to 100,000 before the end of his first term and then reduced it by more than 90% to the current level of 8,400 before leaving office. He had sought a complete withdrawal but military experts predicted the Afghanistan government would fall to the Taliban.

As a candidate, Donald Trump opposed keeping any troops in Afghanistan. He tweeted in August 2012: “Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home!”

January 2013: “Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense!”

March 2013: “We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives”

November 2013: “Do not allow our very stupid leaders to sign a deal that keeps us in Afghanistan through 2024-with all costs by U.S.A.”

Although critical of President Obama, Donald Trump’s calls for withdrawals coincide with Obama’s reductions from 100,000 in 2012 to 16,100 by 2014. Now President Trump wants to increase troop levels for the first time in seven years. News sources report a likely 4,000 new troops, but the President would not indicate a number during his Monday announcement. He also would not define the terms for success, though he promised, “’We are not nation-building again.”

Nation-building was exactly the Afghanistan mission as defined by Bush. I heard him use the term myself when he spoke at VMI in April 2002. He compared it the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after WW2, and he promised our troops wouldn’t leave ”until the mission is done.” That mission was an unqualified failure. Obama increased troop levels not to complete Bush’s nation-building goal but to prevent a complete collapse of the Afghanistan government in the face of a Taliban resurgence. That resurgence was fought back, after which Obama sought a full withdrawal, but instead he instead had to settle for a reduced but continuing force to maintain the current stalemate.

Based on President Trump’s statements Monday night, both his strategy and his goal are unclear. We would all like to see the Taliban and related terrorist organization out and Afghanistan stable and independent. But how will increasing troops to 12,400 accomplish that? President Bush made the same increase, 9,700 to 13,100, in 2003. He added 7,000 the following year, and another 5,000 two years later. Neither increase kept the country stable, let alone crushed or obliterated our enemies.

In 2011, you voted against a House bill directing President Obama to remove all troops from Afghanistan by the end of that year. The bill failed to pass 93-321. In 2013, you voted against an amendment supporting an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan and urging a congressional vote to approve keeping any ground troops after 2014. The amendment passed 305-121. This May you opposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have removed language calling on the President to expand the mission in Afghanistan.

Given your voting history, should I assume you support President Trump’s proposed troop increase? If so, how do you understand the military mission? If we are not continuing Bush’s nation-building, what are we doing? What are the goals, what are the acceptable troop levels, and what broad timetable do you foresee? Or would you authorize the President to raise troops to any level, even to the 100,000 deployed by Obama? Would you also support remaining in Afghanistan for another 16 years?

You said in 2014: “Anytime our country enters into military action, we must consider the men and women of our Armed Forces who stand in harm’s way to serve our nation.” How are you currently considering the 8,400 men and women who are in harm’s way in Afghanistan right now and also the probable 4,000 more the President intends to send?

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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