Four months into his tenure, President Donald Trump faces what could be a defining moment in how he handles the seemingly endless Afghanistan War.
Trump is expected to decide soon whether to send several thousand additional troops to pressure the Taliban into peace talks.
That course has been recommended by the Pentagon, State Department, intelligence community and other agencies, several news organizations reported Tuesday.
Sixteen years in, now in its third presidency, this is America’s longest war. History has not treated Afghanistan’s intervenors well, as witnessed by the Soviet embroilment there from 1979 to 1989.
Guessing Trump’s next move on a military matter always has a way of proving daunting — purportedly by design.
During last year’s campaign, Trump said the U.S. needed to show a strong presence but not take part in adventures he called “dumb.” This left, and still leaves, plenty to the imagination regarding specifics.
“I would stay in Afghanistan,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News last year. “I hate doing it. I hate doing it so much. But again, you have nuclear weapons in Pakistan, so I would do it.”
The Taliban and other extremists have used Pakistan as a safe haven across the border.
NATO nations are due to meet in Brussels May 25, by which time a decision from the president is expected. There is an international force in Afghanistan that officials say totals 13,000 troops, supporting the nation’s forces. Trump has stopped calling NATO obsolete as he did before.
Back in 2015, as he built his candidacy, Trump struck a chord with those inclined to support him when he played on the futility of our involvement.
“At some point, are they going to be there for the next 200 years?” he said that October when asked about Afghanistan. “At some point, what’s going on? It’s going to be a long time.
“We made a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place. We had real brilliant thinkers that didn’t know what the hell they were doing. And it’s a mess. It’s a mess.
“And at this point, you probably have to [stay] because that thing will collapse about two seconds after they leave.”
While details await, his generals, and as well as widely known figures from the foreign-policy establishment, seem to hold sway.
Consider that despite Trump’s seemingly docile pose toward Russia’s Vladimir Putin, he said in a White House news conference last month: “Right now we are not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia.”
So it’s plausible to guess that Trump may also be moving away from his earlier hints of reticence regarding Afghanistan.