It’s possible that Donald Trump can run away from his Charlottesville problems by trying to be commander-in-chief and uttering a policy about Afghanistan. What he cannot run away from, unless he receives some miraculous treatment for narcissistic tendencies, is the mental health baggage that he carries with him.
While it is true that all of us make decisions based on our psychological make-up, it would be thoroughly confusing and unworkable for us to base everyone’s judgment calls on their psychological make-up. An extension of this is that we cannot assess policy decisions on the psychological profiles of those who make them.
But when someone is as detached from reality as Donald Trump, it is essential that we put psychology first and policy assessments second. What took place in his mind to spur him to present to the country and the world a new program of adding 3,900 uncounted troops to Afghanistan? What makes him think that if he chooses a strategy that is remarkably similar to the one that he consistently disparaged and berated from Barack Obama, that he will have sudden success? It is timely that we remind ourselves that one definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Isn’t that what Trump is doing in Afghanistan?
We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.
He thinks this is new, perhaps because in style it varies from what Barack Obama did. But in substance, it is precisely what George W. Bush, Obama’s predecessor, and the man who initiated the sixteen-year-long quagmire in Afghanistan, did. The Bush-Cheney Administration went gung-ho into Afghanistan, wishing to spare no limitations on how it would try to rid the country of terrorists and to make it thoroughly inhospitable to terrorists in the future.
It may serve any United States president well to not just look back at the policies of Barack Obama or George W. Bush in trying to “conquer” Afghanistan. He won’t find success there and he won’t with Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev whose late 1970s invasion into Afghanistan was a total fiasco. If you want victory in Afghanistan, then you might find some with Alexander the Great with his campaign from 330 – 323 BCE. That really wasn’t that good either,
The type of guerilla-style fighting that Alexander faced during the Afghan campaign was described centuries later by the chronicler Plutarch, who compared Afghan tribesmen to a hydra-headed monster: as soon as Alexander cut off one head, three more would grow back in its place.
In some ways, looking at Trump through the lens of his mental health issues rather than standard policy evaluations, reveals the irony in that he could have done what he previously espoused, and what no western country has done in millennia. He could have just pulled out.
Imagine if Barack Obama had tried to simply disengage from Afghanistan. It is what many Americans, including those in uniform, wanted him to do. But since Obama had never been in the military, and he was the one who called America’s presence in Iraq “a dumb war … a rash war,” his credentials were somewhat tainted for withdrawal (as opposed, for instance, to Dwight Eisenhower leading the U.S. out of Korea in 1953).
But with Trump’s psyche and his penchant for outright lying, there is no requirement that he follow reason or base decisions on evidence. That’s why he could have chosen in his August 21, 2017 speech to pull the United States out of Afghanistan. It simply would have been “Trumpian.”
But for whatever reason, he didn’t. And now we’ll all have to pay the price. Whether the military actually gave him the advice that he ascribed to them, they had better keep a close eye on him. The idea of Donald Trump using military resources is about as scary as it can get. We can never lose sight of who he is and what he brings to the table. First and foremost, it is an illness, and that is not the correct prescription for leadership.