Trump's Afghanistan Strategy Is Simply Old Wine in a New Bottle
Why embrace such a comprehensive strategy—especially given that it includes goals that have fallen short in the past? Because if it fails, it bolsters the rationale for a potential U.S. withdrawal down the road. If you can say you tried your level best but couldn’t win the war, and if you can say you tried your level best but couldn’t negotiate an end to the war, then it’s easier to walk away.
The conventional wisdom inside the Beltway is that a withdrawal would be a complete disaster. This may be true. Then again, the balance sheet on America’s continued presence is perilously close to disastrous. After nearly two decades of war, hundreds of billions of dollars spent—including $4 million an hour—and nearly 2,500 American lives lost (as well as nearly thirty-five thousand Afghan civilian lives lost), the Taliban insurgency has never been more ferocious. For Trump, who pledged as a presidential candidate to extricate America from its foreign entanglements, an extended commitment could also become a political liability.
This much is true: Crafting an effective Afghanistan strategy to accompany the troop increase has never been more important—or challenging.
Michael Kugelman is the Asia program deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center.