Donald’ Trump’s latest TV address reversed his pre-election commitments, to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
Instead he promised to increase the numbers of US soldiers there, and fight to win. In effect, he is continuing Barak Obama’s policy in the region.
The geopolitical demands of US foreign policy have trumped (pun intended) the President’s own personal intuitions against interventionism.
War-making is now in the hands of the generals, who insist on a military solution to the Asian quagmire.
Alongside Trump’s new-found bellicosity towards North Korea, a country he had previously avowed he was well-able to do deal with, this marks a change in political direction for the USA.
The Afghanistan move is, however, a symptom of the dilemmas facing any imperialist power facing resistance from indigenous peoples.
It was a situation which eventually defeated the USSR in the same country, and caused the breakup of that global hegemon.
But it is in the nature of a colonial war, and such this is (what the nineteenth century British Empire called ‘small wars’), to suck expeditionary forces into continuous conflicts against insurgent forces.
This problem, of endless casualties in pointless foreign wars, was what led the older European powers to relinquish their overseas possessions.
Such asymmetrical warfare, as we call it today, cannot bring a victory in any conventional, Clausewitzian, sense.
Rather, TV viewers witness a constant procession of body-bags, flown home from the periphery to the metropolis.
The Roman Empire had been able to contain such frontier wars, partly because of its relentless and bloody attitude towards enemies.
As Tacitus, the ancient historian expressed the policy of this military dictatorship dressed up as an empire: the Romans created a desert and called it peace.
In contrast, our own liberal democracies, with more sensitive, tender consciences are unable to perpetrate such conflagrations endlessly, nor can they support the rising casualty rate.
Moreover, regular armies, from western countries with open media, need short-term victories, and are not equipped for the long-term cost of such wars of occupation.
In contrast, the lesson of guerrilla campaigns since the early Twentieth Century has been clear, in the pursuit of what Vietnamese General Giap called a ‘People’s War’ and ‘Protracted Struggle.’
Because they are fighting for their own country, they are willing tolerate much higher casualty rates as they wear down the resolve of the occupying foreign army.
The decision by Trump symbolises the demise of the isolationist, America First approach, which he advocated during his election campaign.
It was a strategy supported by his chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, whom Trump has recently sacked from his position in the White House.
The move constitutes a win for the establishment conservatives of the Republican Party against Trump’s insurgent-style populism.
But it may be, ironically, that the departure of Bannon may be regretted on the part of the left-wing critics of Trump’s presidency.
As seen in his reluctance to fight against North Korea as well, at least he was opposed to war-making, the projection of US American power in unwinnable wars.