Has America Lost Afghanistan?

Oct. 19 2018

In Kandahar yesterday, Lieutenant-General Austin Miller, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was meeting with General Abdul Raziq, one of the most important and reliable pro-American figures in the south of the country, when the Taliban attacked, reportedly with cooperation from one or more of the provincial governor’s guards. Miller escaped unscathed, but Raziq was killed along with other Afghan officials, and three American soldiers were wounded. To Thomas Joscelyn, the attack marks Washington’s defeat in its war on the Taliban:

When President Trump announced his strategy for the war in August 2017, he emphasized that the U.S. approach would be based on conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables. Trump argued correctly that President Obama had mistakenly declared from the outset that a short-lived surge in troops would end by a definitive date. . . . Theoretically Trump’s strategy was going to be more realistic—driven by the progress of the fighting. But the situation on the ground has not improved.

And while President Trump preached patience, it was always in short supply. . . . The president’s behavior only reinforces this perception. Trump hasn’t visited Afghanistan once since becoming commander-in-chief, not even after he announced his commitment to “win” the war last year. . . . Indeed, Trump says little to nothing about the war these days. There are no major speeches, press conferences, or op-eds explaining to the American people why the United States must prevail. In fact, America’s military leaders are arguing just the opposite.

During his farewell speech in early September, General John W. Nicholson, Jr., who first oversaw the war effort for Trump, announced: “It is time for this war in Afghanistan to end.” But wars are not “ended”—they are won or lost. And the Taliban certainly hasn’t been defeated. In many ways, the organization is stronger than at any time since late 2001. Acting as if America can simply “end” the war is the same approach pursued by Barack Obama, who claimed to have brought the Iraq war to a “responsible end” in 2011. Of course, that didn’t happen, either. The vacuum left by America’s withdrawal, in combination with the war in Syria, created an opportunity for jihadists that mushroomed into a self-declared Islamic State caliphate. . . .

The Defense and State Departments say a “political settlement” with the Taliban is necessary. But that is not realistic. [The truth is that the] United States is no longer trying to defeat the Taliban. Instead, the Trump administration, like the Obama administration before it, wants out. The Taliban knows this and is more than happy to dictate the terms of America’s withdrawal. That’s what is now being negotiated. The jihadists also know that wars end in either victory or defeat—and their victory is at hand.

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More about: Afghanistan, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Taliban, U.S. Foreign policy

The Reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Staying Power

Nov. 20 2018

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have narrowly avoided the collapse of his governing coalition despite the fact that one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, withdrew and another, the Jewish Home, threatened to follow suit. Moreover, he kept the latter from defecting without conceding its leader’s demand to be appointed minister of defense. Even if the government were to collapse, resulting in early elections, Netanyahu would almost certainly win, writes Elliot Jager:

[Netanyahu’s] detractors think him Machiavellian, duplicitous, and smug—willing to do anything to stay in power. His supporters would not automatically disagree. Over 60 percent of Israelis tell pollsters that they will be voting for a party other than Likud—some supposing their favored party will join a Netanyahu-led coalition while others hoping against the odds that Likud can be ousted.

Opponents would [also] like to think the prime minister’s core voters are by definition illiberal, hawkish, and religiously inclined. However, the 30 percent of voters who plan to vote Likud reflect a broad segment of the population. . . .

Journalists who have observed Netanyahu over the years admire his fitness for office even if they disagree with his actions. A strategic thinker, Netanyahu’s scope of knowledge is both broad and deep. He is a voracious reader and a quick study. . . . Foreign leaders may not like what he says but cannot deny that he speaks with panache and authority. . . .

The prime minister or those around him are under multiple police investigations for possible fraud and moral turpitude. Under Israel’s system, the police investigate and can recommend that the attorney general issue an indictment. . . . Separately, Mrs. Netanyahu is in court for allegedly using public monies to pay for restaurant meals. . . . The veteran Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman maintains that Israelis do not mind if Netanyahu appears a tad corrupt because they admire a politician who is nobody’s fool. Better to have a political figure who cannot be taken advantage of than one who is incorruptible but naïve.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics