President Trump could be on his way out, but he’s still making waves in D.C. Last week, Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper. This set minds ablaze: why would Trump fire the defense secretary with only days left in his term?
The speculation is that Esper was sacked over his refusal to remove American troops from Afghanistan. Trump reportedly wants to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. troops before he leaves the White House. Reportedly, Trump has told his advisors he wants troops home from Afghanistan by Christmas. In place of Esper, Trump has appointed Christopher Miller as acting defense secretary. Miller immediately hired Ret. Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor as a top advisor.
That’s important. Macgregor has said he would advise the president to get out of Afghanistan “as soon as possible.”
According to Axios, Trump—who ran in 2016 on bringing the troops home—is frustrated by the lack of action on this front. The D.C. bureaucracy has consistently worked behind the scenes to thwart any withdrawal efforts.
The latest example is Syria envoy James Jeffrey. After retiring recently, Jeffrey is openly bragging that he stymied the president’s efforts to reduce troop numbers in Syria, and boasting that he lied to the president about the actual level of U.S. involvement in that country.
A confidential trove of government documents published in 2019 revealed that U.S. officials have been routinely lying about progress in Afghanistan—for over a decade.
According to The Washington Post, U.S. officials made “rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and [hid] unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.” After nearly 20 years of war, the longest war America has ever been involved in, there has been no progress on the ground for at least the last 10 years. In other words, the Taliban controls the same amount of territory today as it did in 2010.
Unfortunately, this bombshell report, a damning indictment of a foreign policy gone sour, receded from the public debate as quickly as it appeared.
Commentators and some media outlets were quick to paint any move toward withdrawal from Afghanistan as ”precipitous.” That’s silly—America has been in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, 2,500 American servicemembers have been killed there, and we’ve lost unacceptable amounts of resources on a doomed nation-building project. Withdrawing is responsible, not precipitous.
A full and final withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a real foreign policy accomplishment. The war isn’t going well and it is unwinnable.
But aren’t we in Afghanistan to keep the country from being a hotbed of terrorism? America doesn’t need a permanent garrison in Afghanistan to conduct counterterror operations—a smarter strategy is destroying terrorists with targeted strikes and raids. Because of our technological and military capabilities, we can responsibly and securely adopt an offshore strategy. To top it off, America’s occupation of Afghanistan has increased terror activity there because of the constant destabilization of the region. Both al-Qaeda and ISIS are in Afghanistan. In peak irony, America is even covertly assisting the Taliban in its fight against ISIS.
There’s no reason to wait for a peace deal with the Taliban, which may never come. The proper question is not how we solve an Afghan civil war, but what does the most good, and what is in America’s interest, here and now? Don’t let the people who’ve had us at war for 20 years tell us they need another six months, or to take this slow. They’ve lied the whole time. Why believe them now?
After all these years, it’s clear that there will always be voices in the Beltway calling for a continued presence in Afghanistan. Despite this, it would be prudent for Trump to withdraw all the U.S. forces from Afghanistan, a long-overdue move that will end America’s longest war.
Willis Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities.