There is no military solution in Afghanistan, at least not one the United States can impose without incurring tremendous cost, both in human and in more prosaic monetary terms.
In fact the war there has already cost the lives of nearly 2,2000 American service men and women along with nearly 2,000 civilian contractors. More than 20,000 Americans have been wounded in Afghanistan in the 16 years we’ve been fighting there.
And we’ve already spent something north of $800 billion in direct appropriations to fund the ongoing Afghan war. War-related spending, including for construction, weapons procurement, and medical care, amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars more.
So what policy solution will President Trump unveil tonight when he makes his address to the American people? He is expected to announce the deployment of an additional 4,000 US troops to Afghanistan, but to what end?
This won’t tip the military balance, though it may help to forestall a complete collapse on the part of Afghan government forces and delay a return to power by the Taliban.
A negotiated solution would seem the only answer here, but no agreement is viable without the backing of the neighboring Pakistanis, and they will inevitably insist on a power-sharing arrangement that includes the Taliban in some new post-conflict scheme for governing Afghanistan. This is something that the United States is far from keen on but which Pakistan sees as vital to protecting its own interests.
There’s no indication that the Trump administration is prepared to enter into negotiations on terms that Pakistan would accept, let alone the Afghans themselves.
As Paul Waldman points out this afternoon at the Washington Post, Trump is now the third president to face the very same dilemma with the same array of choices before him. And he’s likely to come to the same conclusion as the others:
The status quo stinks.
There is no better way forward.
Let the next guy figure it out.
Whatever he announces, one thing is for sure. Trump’s the president. That makes it his war now.