The decision to do more of the same and expect different results underscores a broader strategic bankruptcy within the US national-security establishment.

President Donald Trump’s much-anticipated 21 August speech promised to roll out a new strategy for America’s 16-year-old war in Afghanistan. (Afghans themselves have been at war for nearly 40 years.) Those hoping for meaningful change were disappointed. The decision to do more of the same and expect different results underscores a broader strategic bankruptcy within the US national-security establishment that is eroding trust in American leadership.

That President Trump agreed to stay engaged in Afghanistan, after previously tweeting that the war is a disaster, is important. He called for stronger counter-terrorism and advisory efforts, and an end to nation-building. He stipulated that Afghanistan do more to fight corruption, and insisted that American involvement is not a blank cheque. He promised an unspecified ‘conditions-based’ approach to determining when America’s involvement in the war would come to a close. He demanded Pakistan turn against the Afghan Taliban, with penalties to follow if Pakistan fails to do so. He insisted that India do more in Afghanistan.

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, long-time advocates of eliminating timelines for withdrawal, praised the approach. General (Retd) John Allen, former US commander in Afghanistan, and expert Michael O’Hanlon commended Trump for making a ‘difficult and very presidential decision’ about American policy. Kori Schake, a highly respected thought leader, lauded Trump for changing his mind.1

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Christopher D. Kolenda is a combat veteran of four tours in Afghanistan, and served as senior advisor to three ISAF commanders and two under secretaries of defense. He resigned from the Obama administration in 2014.

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Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

October–November 2017

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