siling labuyo: Protecting U.S. National Interest
President Donald Trump held a press conference the other night to inform the nation about his plans for Afghanistan. After months of dithering, Trump finally gave a glimpse of what his war strategy would look like for that part of the world. A glimpse because he did not want to share specifics and wants to base his decisions on the prevailing conditions on the ground “to maintain tactical advantage” against the enemy. Despite his rhetoric during the campaign about finally putting an end to the 16 year war, Trump is adding more troops “to reverse” the losing trend by trying a “new” approach to America’s foreign policy in that region. Meaning, he wants to “win” the war in his own terms – whatever that means. Like a true amateur that he is, Trump was coy about the troop level increase he is authorizing to boost the current 8,000 troops currently deployed there. He is changing the rules of engagement to allow more combat participation by American military and for the generals to have more control over the war strategy. Perhaps the man does not realize that the reason troop levels are not kept secret because of congressional oversight that eventually will have to approve the needed appropriation. Already, some legislators are complaining about the lack of details from the president. The other interesting tidbit from Trump’s new approach is the entrance of India into the picture while putting the pressure on Pakistan to deny safe havens to the Taliban. Interesting because Trump will soon realize that war is not like selling a piece of property that can be had even with a losing hand but having a good bluffing strategy can save the day. In war, particularly in Afghanistan, the ending scenarios are clear but egos often cloud judgments thinking that the war is still salvageable or winnable. The question is what is that win scenario going to look like? Many agree that they can’t envision one. After 16 years, four thousand more troops are being injected per the generals’ arguments. We all know that Trump does not have the wherewithal much less the experience to even argue with the generals regarding strategy. The fact that he made a big turnaround from his campaign promise tells me that Trump does not really have an idea what to do over there. Delegating the war decisions to the generals that are solely his is a dangerous thing. Yes, these generals: national security adviser H.R. McMaster, along with Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are the ‘adults’ in the room during these talks but their military minds tend to hasten decisions to go to war or to engage in military exercises. Case in point is the bombing of a Syrian base that was purely a symbolic gesture and devoid of any military gain. The base was operation within 24 hours thus any military objective of that bombing was not apparent. Russian military advisers imbedded with the Syrian military who were involved in the gassing of civilians were warned through deconfliction channels between the U.S. and Russian field commanders and were then able to leave before the bombs started raining in. Trump wants the generals to make the decisions because when things gets rough – and they will - like what happened in Yemen last year when a SEAL team member died during a raid, Trump pointed the accusing finger to the generals who planned the raid. He also made an alibi that the plan was hatched during the last month of the Obama administration. Same thing will happen in Afghanistan when the additional 4,000 gets sent and the stalemate remains and military personnel will die – that’s a given, how many depends on the situation. What he has done is a slippery slope that the militarization of what is supposed to be a civilian core group can lead to more war involvement and commitment to an endless war. Complications can arise when the generals get to really play with their toys of war and start opening new fronts. Gone will be the previous truisms of the military’s non-involvement in domestic politics and submission to civilian control – the hallmarks of a professional military under constitutional democracy. Since the establishment of the Continental Army, the United States has by and large practiced those principles while also preaching them to other countries. The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson is at least sober enough to offer that “if we will not win there but so is the Taliban.” In other words, a stalemate is the best we could hope for: can’t defeat them but deny the Taliban unfettered rule of the country. To do that, the U.S. will have to keep the bases we already have there and probably more. Ideally, maintaining nine bases could ensure stability throughout the country albeit with occasional encounters: Bagram Air Base (main headquarters), Camp Eggers in Kabul (near the U.S Embassy), Jalalabad and Gardez (borders India and Pakistan), Kandahar and Helmand (both in the South where U.S. Marine’s Camp Leatherneck is located), Shindand and Herat (both facing Iran), and Mazar-i-Sharif (northern Afghanistan – supply route from Uzbekistan). The basing in Afghanistan really follows a template that has been in place since America became the undisputed global empire after the fall of the Soviet Union. The template is to first destabilize the region (if it has not been destabilized yet), send the troops in and put up temporary bases (for training, staging and stocking of military equipment, and intelligence gathering), fight the war or conflict, sign a status of forces agreement, and keep the bases permanently. Today, the U.S has bases in about 191 countries totaling roughly 1,000 bases. The world is surrounded by these bases and they keep the empire strong militarily, economically, and financially. The U.S. military power is unchallenged and unrivaled today and will remain so for the next century. Russia, China, or Iran can make all kinds of noises but the fact remains that none of them could match America’s firepower and wealth. Unless of course Vladimir Putin successfully employs his Manchurian candidate Donald Trump to screw everything up and cede power by neutralizing Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America through sheer stupidity. But the generals and the American people will have none of that and will have their last say about maintaining the empire through the power of the gun and the purse. This year’s Defense Department budget is $582.7 billion plus an additional $58 billion overseas contingency appropriation that the Trump administration is asking Congress to approve. In 2007 the military budget was $440 billion and did not included additional funding to prosecute the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That kind of increasing funding allows the Navy to patrol the world 24/7, keeps American businesses in faraway places like Timbuktu or Somalia, and financial trading actively going in Asia, Europe, and the United States. So even with a bumbling president like Donald Trump, America will continue to rule the world as long as professional military generals are at the helm. The key is to make these generals (and those who follow them) believe ours is a just cause and for the good to triumph over evil – all in the name of protecting our national interest.