The Buzz

Is H. R. McMaster Stuck in the 'War on Terror' Time Warp?

A recent flare-up of violence in Afghanistan reminded America of its forgotten war, as the U.S. dropped a massive“Mother of All Bombs” bomb on the Islamic State, three U.S. Special Forces soldiers were tragically killed, and more than 140 Afghan soldiers were massacred by Taliban suicide attackers. Sixteen years after 9/11 and Al Qaeda is back with bigger training camps than ever before, the Islamic State is attempting to establish a foothold, and the Taliban are on the march to Kabul. Pakistan still supports militants and provides safe havens, and a revanchist Russia is likely assisting the Taliban. Resolute Support Commander General Nicholson calls the war a “stalemate,” and the U.S. Marines are back in Helmand to “train, advise and assist” the beleaguered Afghan forces who are dying at an alarming rate. The Afghan National Unity Government conjured up by Secretary of State John Kerry seems neither national nor unified, but corrupt and ethnically divided, and always appears on the brink of collapse. Even the return of fugitive warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to Kabul in a peace accord is a double-edged sword for the shaky government.

Against this grim backdrop, the Trump administration is reviewing its Afghanistan strategy. President Trump himself is reportedly undecided on which course to take, with his senior strategist Steve Bannon convinced National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster’s plans for Afghanistan are the kind of “nation building” Trump campaigned against. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is reportedly considering sending up to fifty thousand extra troops to Afghanistan. The McMaster faction could be drawing on the authors I discuss below to make their case to President Trump. Instead of a focus on U.S. troop levels, they emphasize the necessity of a long-term presence and a regional peace deal with the Taliban. Leverage in peace negotiations requires assisting the Afghan forces to achieve battlefield successes. The art of this deal involves doubling down on the art of war.

Why Are We Still There?