Trump is the American Everyman on Afghanistan. He is frustrated that we’re still there after 16 years—who wouldn’t be?—and questions why we’ve spent so much blood and treasure in a land-locked country in Central Asia when roads and bridges go unrepaired at home.
But Trump the president is not Trump the private citizen and, like every policy maker who has looked at Afghanistan with actual responsibility for U.S. interests there, Trump was confronted with a series of bad options and chose the one that offered the least resistance: following the advice of his uniformed military officers and following the same basic strategy as the Obama administration while committing more troops to go on the offensive, again, against the Taliban.
Some of the press reporting today hints the uniformed military officer corps more or less manipulated Trump into committing more resources to Afghanistan in the same way they once manipulated Obama into doing the same.
I disagree with this line of argument.
First, Obama was no one’s puppet. One of our most thoughtful—some would say overly so—presidents, he committed more troops to Afghanistan only after a full year in office that included a rigorous soup-to-nuts review of policy and operations. (I myself played a very small role in this review process while assisting General Stanley McChrystal with his own assessment of the war in the summer of 2009.) To say Obama was dragged into a conflict by hawkish military leaders is unfair—especially since Obama himself had run for office promising to double down in Afghanistan at the same time in which we divested from the war in Iraq.