In the 1993 film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors asks Ralph (played by Rick Overton) “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?” That about sums up the situation in Afghanistan vis a vis the fight against the Taliban ongoing since 2001.
Defense Secretary Mattis, a former Marine general who is affectionately referred to as Mad Dog and Chaos by his former colleagues and subordinates, has a plan for Afghanistan, send more troops.
By all accounts Mattis is an intelligent man, and of high character, but Americans must ask, hasn’t this been tried? Mattis wants President Trump to authorize a “mini-surge” of troops, but Obama tried a bigger surge, and the Taliban has maintained, and increased its position in the country.
Christopher Layne argues that America’s approach stimulates, rather than squelches the growth of terrorism in the Middle East.
Some will also argue that criticism of the Trump/Mattis surge is over wrought because it will be limited in scope and time. But there is a circle of people in the national security establishment—civilian and military—who see Afghanistan, and the wider Middle East, as just one piece of a bigger picture: the “generational” war on radical Islam (be it in its ISIS, Al Qaeda, or the Taliban). For those who hold to this line of thinking, the U.S. has been devoting far too few resources to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc. In 2007 John Nagl, a military theorist, told a meeting of Texas-based U.S. national security experts that it will take “at least a generation” for the U.S. to prevail in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism. The battle against radical Islam, he said, may last as long as the Cold War, and will require a greater mobilization of national resources than has occurred to date. Nagl suggested that to prevail, the U.S. will need to devote at least an additional 2 percent of GDP to this “long war.”
It is stunning how the lessons of Vietnam have slipped from memory of today’s policymakers. But those lessons need to be relearned. Wars like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq are fundamentally political in nature. Movements like ISIS or Al Qaeda cannot be bombed to hell or obliterated militarily (as President Trump has said). Nationalism, religion, and a backlash against the West are deep historical forces that drive wars like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq—and there are no easy solutions. Nation-building does not work any better than American military power in these wars. Indeed, there may not be any solutions to the vortex of violence emanating from the Middle East. We can be sure, however, that as long as this administration is in office (and perhaps, even after it is out of office), that we will hear the same stock phrases from the mouths of policymakers: Give us more troops, give us more time, and we can win. Well, we could not win in Vietnam. And we have not—and cannot win—in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars which began in 2001 and 2003, respectively.
Ironically, as many security studies scholars have figured out, far from stamping out terrorism spreading outward from the Islamic world, the heavy-handed U.S. presence in the region stimulates it. Perhaps it’s time for a new tack. Instead of spending lives and money trying to put out the fire, it might be wiser to pull back, insulate ourselves as much as possible, and let the fire burn itself out.
Read more from Layne at The American Conservative.