Afghanistan: Putting the Pentagon in charge
President Trump’s decision to delegate the Afghanistan War to the Pentagon is a “dereliction of duty,” said Michael Fuchs in USNews.com. He’s given Secretary of Defense James Mattis authority to determine troop levels there, and Mattis plans to add 4,000 troops to the 8,400 now mired in the nation’s longest war, which grinds on after nearly 16 years and 2,400 American deaths—three just this month. Allied forces are losing ground to the Taliban, al Qaida, and ISIS. Decisions must be made, and Mattis, a retired four-star general, is “extremely capable.” But Trump is shirking his responsibility as civilian commander in chief by letting Mattis put more Americans in harm’s way, without “an overall diplomatic, economic, and regional strategy” to end the war. Perhaps Trump “wants to insulate himself from responsibility” if Afghanistan deteriorates further. Regardless, it’s “another step down a dangerous path of militarizing U.S. foreign policy.”
“Trump is right,” said The Washington Post in an editorial. Deferring to the Pentagon “is a worthy corrective” to President Obama’s micromanagement, which “badly undercut” U.S. military efforts. Obama set troop withdrawal timetables “unlinked to conditions on the ground,” enabling a Taliban resurgence. Mattis promises to deliver a strategy to blunt Taliban momentum, likely by boosting special operations forces backed with air power. Hard and costly as it may be, the U.S. must commit to years of continued involvement in Afghanistan, to avoid the disaster of the country falling back into militant Islamist hands. No strategy can succeed, though, “without reducing Pakistan’s support for the Taliban,” said Stephen Hadley and Moeed Yusuf in The New York Times. Pakistanis give the Taliban safe haven chiefly to counterbalance the growing influence of rival India, which has increased economic and military aid to Kabul. The U.S. should also “get serious about a political settlement in Afghanistan” involving all elements of its society, “including the Taliban.”
Politically, delegating Afghanistan to the generals “is clever, even brilliant—in the short run,” said Noah Feldman in Bloomberg.com. “It insulates Trump from criticism if the move fails, and allows him to take credit if by some chance the troops bring greater stability.” In the long term, however, outsourcing foreign policy to generals only leads to one result. “Put simply, the Pentagon will always ask for more”: more troops, more funding, and more years of Americans fighting a war that may go on indefinitely.