The U.S. War in —or on—Afghanistan has rightly been called the “Forever War.”
Launched on October 7, 2001, while the ruins of the World Trade Center were still smoldering from the 9/11 attacks five weeks earlier, the war is now in its 19th year, making it almost nine years longer than the Vietnam War.
And yet, over the years, almost any time a president has attempted to ratchet down the war, or to talk about ending it—while that may have been a popular desire among the American people—the media, conservative and liberal alike, have started talking about how such a thing would be “premature,” or would lead to disaster with the Taliban moving back into power (see FAIR.org: 1/31/19, 9/11/19 and Extra magazine 7/11, 9/11).
Now that the just-defeated President Donald Trump, heading out of office on January 20, is trying to make good on his campaign promise to end the U.S. war in that impoverished and long-suffering “graveyard of empires,” he too is being accused of being somehow precipitous for proposing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, October 7, Trump tweeted a message promising to have all 5,000 “BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas.”
After all these years, and considering the small number of U.S. forces still in that country (after first raising the number of troops in Afghanistan from 8,500 when he took office to 14,000 in 2017, Trump has reduced the number of troops there from 13,000 in October 2019 to 5,000 at the end of this November, a record that could hardly be called “precipitous” by any definition!), it might seem like a long overdue move, especially coming from a president who ran for office vowing to end America’s “ridiculous endless wars.”
But to look at most media reaction, you’d think Trump was FDR saying he was pulling U.S. forces out of France and Italy in the middle of the final assault on the Nazi Wehrmacht.
The media went on the attack against his proposed withdrawal almost instantly.
“The U.S. military was blindsided Thursday by President Donald Trump’s assertion that all U.S. troops will be out of Afghanistan by the end of the year,” wrote the Associated Press (10/19/20), saying that unnamed “U.S. officials” were claiming “they are not aware of such a plan and have gotten no actual order to accelerate the more gradual pullout they’ve been executing.”
Those same unnamed “Pentagon officials,” joined by unnamed officials in the State Department, were said to “fear a hasty withdrawal could force the U.S. to leave behind sensitive military equipment,” and to “stress that the Taliban has still not met requirements to reduce violence against the Afghans, a key element of the U.S. withdrawal plan.”
These complaints are appalling on their face, but are simply reported by the U.S. media as if they were self-evident truths. Yet Trump did, after all, run for president in 2016 vowing to end the U.S. wars abroad—Afghanistan being the most enduring of these conflicts. Besides, as early as August 2, Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had reported that he had been “instructed to pursue troop reduction in Afghanistan by Election Day 2020” by the president—something he and the Pentagon brass apparently didn’t do.
How then, can anyone in the Pentagon or State Department now with a straight face claim to have been “blindsided” by the commander in chief’s tweet a month later? As Richard Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security wrote in Atlantic Monthly(8/2/19), Pompeo said of Trump: “He’s been unambiguous. End the endless wars. Draw down. Reduce.”
Never mind. The pro-war, pro-empire media all piled on.
In an article on October 16, headlined “In Open Split, Trump’s Top General, National Security Adviser Clash on Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal,” ABC News (10/16/20) reported that Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Mark Milley, the military’s top general, as well as Secretary of State Pompeo, “have vowed that withdrawal would be ‘conditions-based,’ including a reduction in violence.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that Trump is some kind of peacenik. Far from it! Just look at his support for the Saudi War on Yemen, his Tomahawk missile bombardments of Syria, his “fire and fury” threats against North Korea, and his threats of war on Venezuela, his provocative and dangerous drone killing of Iran’s drone assassination of Iran’s top general and his increases in Pentagon spending year after year. And then there’s his amped up level of violence, primarily via airstrikes and drone missile attacks on Afghanistan—attacks which would likely continue even with US troops out of the country.
What I am saying is that it is evident that after steadily reducing U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan since last year, when Trump finally announced his intention to make a full pull-out of remaining U.S. troops, it provoked serious institutional pushback from the Pentagon, State Department, National Security Council and the military/industrial complex. And clearly, influential media organizations have been quite obliging in helping institutional opponents to a troop draw-down in the Washington get their alarmist word out.
The Hill(11/16/20) ran an article, headlined “McConnell Warns Trump Against Troop Drawdown in Afghanistan,” reporting that:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fired a warning shot Monday against withdrawing more U.S. troops from Afghanistan, even as the Pentagon is preparing an order to do so.
McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, warned that only a “small minority” in Congress would support a rapid drawdown and warned that a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan “would hurt our allies and delight, delight, the people who wish us harm.”
Honestly, one could imagine a similar comment being made by an ardent supporter of continued U.S. war on Vietnam as the embassy staff were climbing onto rescue choppers on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.
We’ve known for a long time that the U.S. has been losing or at best managing a stalemate in Afghanistan for years, and given that situation it’s obvious that whenever the U.S. does finally leave, the Taliban will take over the country, so that unavoidable reality is not a great argument for not pulling out remaining troops.
But somehow, the idea of Trump’s saying he’s going to end the deployment of US troops in Afghanistan just causes the media to lose it. Perhaps it’s having to admit the U.S. has lost another war, or maybe it’s just the need to keep justifying a Pentagon budget that consumes 50% of each year’s federal discretionary spending.
The New York Times (11/12/20) was quick to quote General Milley as virtually committing an act of insubordination in an article headlined “Top General Declines to Endorse Trump’s Afghan Withdrawal Timeline.” The article quotes Milly:
I think that [Trump National Security Advisor] Robert O’Brien or anyone else can speculate as they see fit. I’m going to engage in the rigorous analysis of the situation based on the conditions and the plans that I am aware of and my conversations with the president.
Meanwhile, US News (11/17/20) chose to highlight opposition to the idea of withdrawal from the president’s own party. In an article headlined “Republican Outcry Over Trump’s Afghanistan Withdrawal Plan Grows,” the magazine wrote:
The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday added to growing condemnation within the party of reports that President Donald Trump plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan in the waning days of his presidency.
“Increased military pressure brought the Taliban to the table,” Rep. Mac Thornberry told reporters Tuesday, “and pretty much everybody agreed that further reductions would be conditions based.”
“In other words, they give and we give. And I don’t know of any condition which justifies reducing further the troops that we have in Afghanistan,” said the Texas lawmaker, who did not seek reelection.”
In the end, while it’s admittedly hard to know when this president is serious about what he tweets or when he is just writing what pops into his head when he wakes up in the morning, if he was serious about pulling out all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Christmas, the opponents of withdrawal appear to have won: Lame duck President Trump has reportedly scaled back his call from bringing all U.S. troops in Afghanistan home by Christmas, to an order to have only half of them brought home. That leaves the fate of the remaining 2,500 “Brave men and women in Afghanistan” up to his successor as commander in chief, Joe Biden.
Thanks in no small part to the media’s full press against the current president’s avowed withdrawal plan, Biden will enter office in January to become the fourth consecutive president in charge of the U.S.’s still endless war on Afghanistan.