An empire is a lot like a super tanker. It moves slowly, but it is so huge it is nearly impossible to stop or steer. The best a capable leader can do is nudge it slightly off its current path, a slight course correction. Otherwise, the sheer momentum of the thing makes piloting it impossible. Generations of bad ideas have been loaded into the super tanker that is the American Empire. The momentum can only be arrested with a giant rip in the hull from an unseen object.
That’s what we’re seeing with Trump. He was full of big talk about ratcheting back US commitments around the world, particularly in pointless sinkholes like Afghanistan, where we have been killing people for going on a generation. To be precise and date our involvement to when we first put advisers on the ground, we have been in Afghanistan for 37 years now. Operation Cyclone was started under Carter and became the program the Reagan administration used to unseat the Soviet Union.
Now Trump is promising to make sure we are there for a 40th anniversary.
President Trump unveiled his plan for Afghanistan after seven months of deliberation Monday evening, announcing tweaks around the edges of the current strategy instead of a different approach.
He announced five “core pillars” to the approach: getting rid of any timelines for how long U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan; using all elements of power, including diplomatic and economic; getting tougher on Pakistan; getting India to help more with economic development; and expanding authorities for U.S. forces to fight terrorists.
What the president did not announce was how many more U.S. troops would head to Afghanistan, which he decided earlier this year to leave up to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to determine.
He did, however, say the U.S. would no longer talk about troop levels or drawdown dates, making it unclear whether troop increases would be announced. There are currently about 8,400 U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and the president has reportedly approved of a plan to send about 4,000 more.
The pointlessness of this endeavor is finally admitted. Trump layered on a thick coating of his usual nonsense, but the truth is, no one knows why we are there anymore or what we are trying to accomplish. We are just going to remain there doing stuff because the generals now running American foreign policy like playing warlord. They got Trump to sign off on looser rules of engagement, so they can have some more fun shooting the locals, but otherwise it is more of the same.
That’s the thing we’re seeing that no one seems to be discussing. The civilian arm of the government is no longer in control of American military policy. In the Bush years, it was obvious that Cheney ran the show, with a bunch of generals and former generals, but at least Cheney was a civilian. Obama was just a figurehead in all aspects, but there were still a few civilians in the military policy loop. Trump has turned it all over to dazzling mediocrities like Mattis and Kelly.
The other aspect of this is the decision to hide from the public the details of what is going in Afghanistan. No more troop levels, no more timelines and no more answering questions about what we are doing there. In the managerial state, you are no longer a citizen with the right to ask questions of your government and they are no longer obligated to explain things to you. You are empowered and encouraged to fulfill your potential in an inclusive, welcoming environment!
Even the military has not escaped the corrosive effects of managerialism. This war is a managerial state war, where no one ever asks hard questions of their managers or even thinks much about it. Decisions are made, meetings are held, action plans are drawn up and someone does a presentation to a committee. People get to put their participation on their resume. They get to put down that they were on a committee that conjured a program with a ridiculous name like “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
Some people console themselves with the belief that eventually the empire will be bled dry and our rulers will have no choice but to pull back. The trouble with that is our rulers can go on pillaging the middle class to finance this stuff for a long time. There’s nothing the people can do about it, short of open revolt. No matter which party they put in charge, the polices remain the same. Trump was supposed to be the warning shot, but instead he is turning into another kibble thrown into the maw of the managerial state.
America is now committed to being in Afghanistan for a few more years, bringing our engagement to at least four decades. The Brits hung around the place for roughly 90 years. The First Afghan War started in 1839 and the last British expats were evacuated in 1929 after a tribal uprising. Afghanistan had become independent in 1919, but the Brits hung around to “help.” Given that American rulers are much dumber than the old British colonials, it is safe to say that this is America’s forever war.