One of the most prominent political events of recent days was President Donald Trump’s address on the United States Policy on Afghanistan, which took place at Fort Myer on August 21 this year.
The overall attention to the main points of this statement is understandable. For the first time in his first six months in office, the current president of the leading world power has publicly addressed the topic of one of the most intractable and costly foreign policy actions in the whole American history.
Such a statement was somewhat delayed, as it appears that, amid growing problems inside and outside the country, the new administration simply does not want to draw attention to Afghanistan either.
But the Afghan issue has been at the top of the list of the problems confronting the United States in the last sixteen years, and it cannot just disappear as quietly as a nightmare, a fact that the current President clearly outlined earlier in the election campaign. Having been in power for six months, the US president is no longer entitled to continue to evade the fundamental twofold question: who is to blame and what to do with this problem.
The answer to this question was the subject of a lengthy struggle between the supporters of the fulfillment of the presidential promises and opponents of the reduction of US foreign policy obligations. The resignation of their informal leader Steve Bannon dealt a negative blow to the first outcome of this struggle.
On August 21, the president straightened the first part of the above-mentioned issue extremely simply as follows: “blame” the previous US presidents, and, above all, Barack Obama. Previously, that is, during the pre-election campaign, while speaking as a non-compliant, free-style political artist, Donald Trump just as easily “solved” the second part of the question: there is a need for a definitive exit from Afghanistan, that is, to conclude the work begun by the same Barack Obama.
But these are the words of an irresponsible person, which, in fact, their speaker confirmed at Fort Myer. This is because the many years of the American saga in Afghanistan was the embodiment of a project with an obvious goal-setting. However, the implementation of this project has been accompanied by gigantic costs of hardly predictable proportions.
In fact, the objectives of the project (of which the notorious “9/11 events” were part) were two-fold in nature, with each part being initiated by two, say, “interested groups”.
Of these, the first avoids excessive publicity. Its main motive was based on the categorical disagreement with the course of the then-ruled Taliban in Afghanistan to completely stop the production of drugs, which was almost achieved by the second half of 2001. The organizers of this next “opium war” (apparently, the same as the first), of course, could not be forgiven.
The perpetrator of the act of punishment was a very public and legal “grouping” in the person of the US leadership. In this regard, it is quite nice to hear frequent words about the “failures of American efforts” to combat drug trafficking in Afghanistan. The attaining of better luck (due to a fifty-fold increase in the volume of opium produced in the country) is hard to imagine. True, the costs of achieving it have been borne by people of different countries and, above all, by Americans.
However, the second “grouping” had its own purpose, in the underlining of which “China” was the key word. Nevertheless, this magic word was not once pronounced either in 2001, or today at Fort Myer. These are the tacit rules of the mutual political correctness of the two major world powers in the world today, the global competition between which since the beginning of the zero years has moved to the center of a new geopolitical game.
In organizing the next challenge for its global competitor, Washington considered it better to point to “international terrorism” since the fall of 2001, when the United States orchestrated its military invasion of Afghanistan “for its suppression”. Nonetheless, at the outset, there was no doubt on the completely reasonable goal of an early procurement of strategic positions behind the back of the main rival of the twenty-first century. But Pakistan, the main American ally in the region since the cold war, no longer suited this role. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Islamabad saw the rapidly growing China as a new and reliable foothold in its fight against India.
The special importance of Donald Trump’s speech at Fort Myer was compounded by the presence in it of the words “Pakistan” and “India”. And they were used in a completely different assessment context. While the former was presented as a “safe haven for terrorists”, the latter was displayed as a “strategic partner” of the United States against the common threat of terrorism. The desire to expand India’s presence in Afghanistan was expressed.
It should be noted that this is not the first time that Donald Trump has made a sharp distinction between the two leading countries of the South Asian region in his assessments. Two months earlier, he voiced almost the same sentiments in Washington when he was receiving Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi on his official visit to the US capital.
Moreover, if we consider the trends in American politics in the South Asian region and a much broader period of time, say, from the beginning of the 2000s, Trump said nothing fundamentally new in this case. We once again note here that these trends are determined mainly by the fact that China has become a source of major challenges to the United States global positions.
Let us also note the time that was chosen by Donald Trump for the next display of support towards India from the US side. This is being done at a time when Sino-Indian relations have sharply deteriorated in connection with the confrontation on one of the high-altitude sections of the border separating the two countries.
Evaluation of the main (but not named, we again emphasize) addressee of Donald Trump’s speech has a rather constrained character. As in the case of the entire policy of the PRC in relation to the United States. In general, there is uncertainty as to what the American administration would like to achieve in Afghanistan and the meaning of the word “victory” used by Mr. Trump. Criticism is mainly focused on the part of the speech concerning “putting pressure on Pakistan“.
In connection with the latter, we note the next act of strengthening the Chinese-Pakistani relations, which culminated in a visit to Islamabad by Vice Premier Wang Yang, held on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Pakistan’s independence and a week before the speech of the US president. During the bilateral events, words were voiced on the comprehensive development of the “iron friendship” and, in particular, the intention to proceed with the construction of the China-Pakistan economic corridor, which has previously been repeatedly discussed in the NEO.
As for the Afghans themselves, as we noted earlier, the question of their fate appears to occupy the last place in the goal setting of the American Afghan adventure since its inception. Just like for the past 100-200 years, they find themselves in the millstones of the “Big Game”, but with the new major players.
This, by the way, is a response to the widespread reproaches in the ambiguity of the strategy that Donald Trump is going to follow, “to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan.” Replicas of this kind in the speech of the American president can be found not only in Chinese, but also, for example, in the Japanese press. No one is planning to “stabilize” Afghanistan. Here, quite different issues, as discussed above, are resolved.
Therefore, it is unlikely that the Taliban will receive any focused response to the call to Donald Trump, the meaning of which is simply true: “Leave us Afghans alone. You have already brought us untold suffering, and you yourselves have suffered a lot of trouble.”
How could they “leave them alone?” And watch China (with the help of Pakistan), without any war, but purely through economic instruments, gain control over a critical territory? Well, certainly not an option. It is better that we send in five thousand additional troops, and let them teach the “locals” how to fight “terrorism”. Once again, the Americans are feeding the public with the false narrative of the “gradual transfer to government forces” of responsibility for security in Afghanistan. Only, now there is no indication of the “final” deadlines.
In conclusion, we repeat one more time: the content and message of the speech given by Donald Trump at Fort Myer go far beyond the actual Afghan problems, and fit both within the context of the US domestic politics and the global confrontation with the PRC.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”