The film War Machine (2017) that I reviewed recently is a satire on US efforts to win the war in Afghanistan that follows a cyclic pattern. A president gets increasingly frustrated with the fact that the war is just dragging along in a stalemate, decides that what is needed is a new strategy and new leadership, fires the existing military commander and appoints a new military commander who has a sterling reputation gained elsewhere, that person says that he needs more troops to deliver a crushing blow to the enemy, gets the troops but the blow fails to be effective, gets fired, and then gets replaced by a new commander and the process begins all over again.
That film was a very, very thinly veiled description of how new president Barack Obama in June 2009 fired David McKiernan as US and NATO commander in Afghanistan of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and replaced him with General Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal felt that if he was able to capture the stronghold of Helmand province from the Taliban, he could break the back of the opposition and win the war. He asked for, and got, 40,000 more troops to prosecute his strategy. He failed. When it was reported that he and his team were on the record criticizing the president, he was fired in June 2010 for insubordination and was replaced by David Petraeus. Petraeus was replaced by John Allen in July 2011, who was replaced by Joseph Dunford in February 2013, who was replaced by John Campbell in August 2014, who was replaced by John Nicholson in August 2016.
Now a new president has come in. Donald Trump promised that winning the war would be easy for him and now, like Obama before him, has decided that what is needed is a new commander in Afghanistan to finally win the war so he wants to fire the current commander and put in a fresh face, no doubt because that is a plan that has worked so well in the past.
President Trump reportedly pushed to fire the general in charge of the war in Afghanistan because the United States is “losing” the war, according to a new report Wednesday.
“We aren’t winning,” Trump complained during the meeting, the officials told the news outlet. “We are losing.”
The Trump administration has been grappling for months with devising a new strategy for the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary James Mattis promised to deliver one to Congress by mid-July, but nothing materialized.
Gen. John Nicholson has been commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan since March 2016. Trump has not met Nicholson, and his military advisers reportedly offered to set up a meeting in order to help ease Trump’s concerns.
In February, Nicholson was the first to call the war a stalemate and said he needed a few thousand more troops to break it.
I won’t even go into the ridiculous and error-filled comparison that Trump made about wars, using an example about renovating a New York restaurant. Trump also complained that while the US is fighting and losing, China has obtained the rights to exploit Afghanistan’s mineral resources, another example of China’s focus on soft power.
Afghanistan has long been known as the graveyard for foreign armies, sucking them in with the tantalizing hope that such an impoverished nation will fall quickly to the superior military and technological might of powerful nations. The UK, Russia, and now the US have all fallen prey to that deceptive allure only to find that the ground is like quicksand, slowly sucking them in. What is ironic is that it was the US that helped replenish that quicksand by nurturing and grooming the Taliban in order to suck Russia into it, and now finds itself in the quicksand it created.