There's a history still to be written of how key officials in the Trump administration and the Pentagon stiffed the commander-in-chief when it came to America's forever wars. How, for instance, did the generals with whom Donald Trump initially surrounded himself convince the man who had, in part, won the presidency by campaigning to end America's post-9/11 "endless" wars to significantly increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2017? We don't know. All we really know is that he shouldn't then have been calling Secretary of Defense Jim "Mad Dog" Mattis, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of Homeland Security and later White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, "my generals" (as he also then spoke of "my military"). They should instead have been referring to him as "our president."
As the Trump presidency ends with the commander-in-chief finally cutting the number of troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia (but not withdrawing them all), a story remains to be told. On his recent retirement, for instance, Jim Jeffrey, the State Department's special representative for Syria engagement, offered a revelation. When the president finally began acting to "end" America's forever wars in December 2018 by demanding that U.S. troops be withdrawn from Syria -- Secretary of Defense Mattis would resign over that order -- he was convinced to leave behind a relatively small number of them, 200, as the withdrawal proceeded. Or so the president came to believe at least (and so it was reported at the time). But Jeffrey now informs us that "there was never a Syria withdrawal" at all. The full contingent of perhaps 900 American troops evidently remains there to this day. The president's top officials simply lied to him (and assumedly the media) on the subject. As Jeffrey put it, "We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there."
Now, almost 19 years after the post-9/11 American invasion of Afghanistan, partial withdrawals are reportedly soon to be underway in that country, Iraq, and Somalia (even as the president has evidently been contemplating a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities). TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author most recently of The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory, focuses on their significance today. But to anyone who watched retired Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster attack the president's Afghan withdrawal plan on the PBS NewsHour the other night, claiming Trump had "partnered with the Taliban against the Afghan government," you do have to wonder just how efficiently those partial withdrawals will be carried out by "his" military before Joe Biden assumedly enters the Oval Office on January 20th and then, of course, who knows what will happen? Tom
A Good Deed from the Wicked Witch?
Actually Ending the War in Afghanistan
By Andrew Bacevich
Let's open up and sing, and ring the bells out
Ding-dong! the merry-oh sing it high, sing it low
Let them know the wicked witch is dead!
Within establishment circles, Donald Trump's failure to win re-election has prompted merry singing and bell-ringing galore. If you read the New York Times or watch MSNBC, the song featured in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz nicely captures the mood of the moment.
As a consequence, expectations for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to put America back on the path to the Emerald City after a dispiriting four-year detour are sky high. The new administration will defeat Covid-19, restore prosperity, vanquish racism, reform education, expand healthcare coverage, tackle climate change, and provide an effective and humane solution to the problem of undocumented migrants. Oh, and Biden will also return the United States to its accustomed position of global leadership. And save America's soul to boot.
So we are told.
That these expectations are deemed even faintly credible qualifies as passing strange. After all, the outcome of the 2020 presidential election turned less on competing approaches to governance than on the character of the incumbent. It wasn't Joe Biden as principled standard-bearer of enlightened twenty-first-century liberalism who prevailed. It was Joe Biden, a retread centrist pol who emerged as the last line of defense shielding America and the world from four more years of Donald Trump.
So the balloting definitively resolved only a single question: by 80 million to 74 million votes, a margin of six million, Americans signaled their desire to terminate Trump's lease on the White House. Yet even if repudiating the president, voters hardly repudiated Trumpism. Republicans actually gained seats in the House of Representatives and appear likely to retain control of the Senate.
On November 3rd, a twofold transfer of power commenced. A rapt public has fixed its attention on the first of those transfers: Biden's succession to the presidency (and Trump's desperate resistance to the inevitable outcome). But a second, hardly less important transfer of power is also occurring. Once it became clear that Trump was not going to win a second term, control of the Republican Party began reverting from the president to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The implications of that shift are immense, as Biden, himself a longtime member of the Senate, no doubt appreciates.
Consider this telling anecdote from former President Barack Obama's just published memoir. Obama had tasked then-Vice President Biden with cajoling McConnell into supporting a piece of legislation favored by the administration. After Biden made his pitch, the hyper-partisan McConnell dourly replied, "You must be under the mistaken impression that I care." End of negotiation.
Perhaps the Democrats will miraculously win both Senate seats in Georgia's January runoff elections and so consign McConnell to the status of minority leader. If they don't, let us not labor under the mistaken impression that he'll support Biden's efforts to defeat Covid-19, restore prosperity, vanquish racism, reform education, expand healthcare coverage, tackle climate change, or provide an effective and humane solution to the problem of undocumented migrants.
It's a given that McConnell isn't any more interested in saving souls than he is in passing legislation favored by Democrats. That leaves restoring American global leadership as the sole remaining arena where President Biden might elicit from a McConnell-controlled GOP something other than unremitting obstructionism.
And that, in turn, brings us face to face with the issue Democrats and Republicans alike would prefer to ignore: the U.S. penchant for war. Since the end of the Cold War and especially since the terror attacks of 9/11, successive administrations have relied on armed force to assert, affirm, or at least shore up America's claim to global leadership. The results have not been pretty. A series of needless and badly mismanaged wars have contributed appreciably -- more even than Donald Trump's zany ineptitude -- to the growing perception that the United States is now a declining power. That perception is not without validity. Over the past two decades, wars have depleted America's strength and undermined its global influence.
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