Small Wars Journal

Back to Nation-Building in Afghanistan. Good.

Back to Nation-Building in Afghanistan. Good. By Max Boot - New York Times

After a torturous and protracted White House review, President Trump unveiled what was billed as a new Afghanistan policy on Monday night. But what exactly was new?

There were two significant departures from the Obama administration’s policy. First, Mr. Trump rejected a timeline for withdrawal: “Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on.” Second, the president gave up any hope, admittedly slim, of successful peace talks with the Taliban: “Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen.”

This is an overdue recognition that an unseemly rush to the exits and an overeagerness for peace talks defeat the United States’ objectives in Afghanistan by convincing the Taliban that we lack the will to prevail and will soon be gone. But on a deeper level, there was far more continuity than change — not least in Mr. Trump’s denial that he is engaged in nation-building when he is doing precisely that.

Here is President Barack Obama, on June 22, 2011, announcing the withdrawal of 33,000 troops from Afghanistan: “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.” And here is President Trump on Monday, announcing the dispatch of more troops to Afghanistan: “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”

But when I visited Afghanistan a few days ago, traveling with Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the chief of the United States Central Command, all the briefings I received from American officials were about nation-building. Admittedly, no one used that term — the preferred euphemisms are “capacity building,” “enabling” and “working by, through and with.” But the intent is the same...

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