On August 21st many Americans witnessed the moon cast a historic but short-lived shadow across the United States. One day later, President Trump reversed his previously stated position on the 16 year old Afghan War, thereby eclipsing the possibility that the United States would finally come to its senses and rethink a failed strategy that is likely to fail for years, perhaps decades, to come. The abrupt change, in what had been a central plank in candidate Trump’s appeal to voters thirsting for change in American foreign policy, came hard after the departure of Steve Bannon from the White House. As a self-avowed nationalist, Bannon had represented a true break in interventionist Republican thinking that had entangled the United States in intractable conflicts around the globe. To put an exclamation point, Sebastian Gorka, the last remaining proponent of the Bannon perspective, was forced out of the White House. The counter-revolution appears to be complete.
In his widely-followed speech regarding Afghan policy, Trump now appears to favor a widening of the military effort to insure that the United States continues to exert an influence on a remote central Asian region, where it is often said that empires go to die.
A big part of Trump’s “drain the swamp” appeal, lay in his promise to change the politics of Washington. To many voters, such a shift would include a break from America’s “Neo-Con” agenda of foreign intervention, which has deeply enmeshed the country in foreign politics and has enriched the defense industry and its lobbyists. However, given the Administration’s failure to break the Congressional inertia with respect to healthcare and now its reversal on Afghanistan, it appears as if the swamp refuses to be drained.
Recent elections in the U.S. and Europe have exposed deep-seated public distrust, suspicion and anger at the political establishment. Most had expected that the 2016 Presidential election would be a test of established figures, but populist elements in both parties soon took center stage. Against almost all political calculations, Trump ousted Jeb Bush as the establishment Republican candidate and went on to win the Presidency. The political establishment was stunned, and has yet to come to terms with the people’s choice. Now it appears that the entire establishment is united in a common aim to destroy the duly elected President.
The fact that business as usual now appears to be remaining so is manifesting itself with growing popular frustration. The past few days have seen an increase in politically motivated street violence in America. Meanwhile, the grass roots supporters of Sanders and Trump fight in the streets and on university campuses.
It appears that Bannon was squeezed out of the White House by establishment Republicans. In other words, the swamp swamped him, and America is just as stuck in Afghanistan as she ever was. While Trump may have insisted on better tactics, including increased aggression and more realistic rules of engagement, our servicemen and women will continue fighting a sixteen-year war on ground chosen by and favoring the enemy. Normally, history illustrates that given a determined enemy, and particularly one with sanctuary neighbors like Pakistan, even the largest armies lose. Such was the case in Vietnam.