It is a rare thing, indeed, when both establishment and media "liberals" and "conservatives" agree on anything. Nevertheless, lightning has proverbially struck this week as both sides attack President Trump with equal vehemence. Thus, here we are, and here I am – in the disturbing position of defending Trump’s (until Sunday) peace policy for Afghanistan. Nonetheless, though I don’t particularly like the way this position befits me, I’ll take it as a sign that I just might be on to something when the clowns at Fox News and MSNBC alike vociferously disagree with my position on an American forever war.
Few in the political or press mainstream ever much liked Trump’s regularly touted plans to extract U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Even "liberal" Rachel Maddow – who once wrote a book critical of US military interventions – turned on a dime and became a born-again cheerleader for continuing the war. After all, in tribal America, if Trump proposes it, the reflexive "left" assumes it must be wrong, anathema even. That’s come to be expected.
But this time, even his own party attacked the president after he let slip that he’d planned a secret peace conference with the Taliban at Camp David and might even have announced a deal to gradually end the US role in the war during the anniversary week of the 9/11 attacks. Gasp! How dare he? End a failing war, save the lives of perhaps hundreds or thousands of US troops, and do so near the 9/11 anniversary? This amounts to heresy in imperial Washington D.C. But it shouldn’t be unexpected: Trump’s own policy advisers have opposed any meaningful steps to end the Afghan War from the get go.
Ever since he took office, Trump’s anti-interventionist "instincts” – though publicly popular – have been stifled by his advisers in what his base calls the "deep state" and I prefer to simply label the "national security warfare state." Whether it was, first, the ostensible, media-canonized "adults in the room” – really a troika of generals with tired, discredited ideas – or, recently, the neoconservative retreads, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, nearly every Trump national security adviser has worked tirelessly to keep America at war everywhere.
Lost in all the bipartisan hysteria regarding the 9/11 anniversary and Camp David location choice, is one salient, if uncomfortable, truth: the only way these sorts of wars end, historically, is through negotiations with implacable enemies and nefarious actors. That’s real life, and ending stalemated wars is no time for dreamy delusions. Besides, what better option exists than peace talks and a phased US withdrawal? With the Taliban contesting more of the country than ever before, the Kabul regime broke and corrupt, and a record opium crop fueling Taliban finances, the war has reached – for years now – a tenuous stasis between quagmire and stalemate.
That’d all be wild enough, but CNN pundits predictably went all in with the anti-Trump rhetoric. In a bit of hysteria truly worthy of the times, on Monday CNN’s talking heads went so far as to call for Trump’s impeachment for even considering peace talks with the Taliban at supposedly sacred Camp David. That’s extremely scary, but also silly: for decades now – and this is admittedly unfortunate – presidents have waged war and negotiated peace all but unilaterally. Trump’s not breaking any new ground here, even if it would be preferable to have a (cowardly and uninterested in the job at all) Congress involved.
What’s so bad about having Taliban representatives at Camp David? The PLO’s avowed "terrorist," leader, Yasser Arafat has been there. What’s more, presidents and their representatives have negotiated with adversaries responsible for far more American deaths than the Taliban: Eisenhower with the North Koreans and Chinese; Nixon with the North Vietnamese and Vietcong; Reagan with the leader of the Soviet "evil empire." In fact, diplomacy is actually more presidential than waging endless, reflexive warfare.
Not that Trump is innocent. The vast majority of his policies and beliefs are abhorrent. He is lazy, uninformed, and wildly inconsistent, flip-flopping often enough to make John Kerry seem ideologically reliable by contrast. Because as commander-in-chief he made the decisions, responsibility for his regular propensity to fold and sign on to the inertia of endless war ultimately rests with him. In the latest case, Trump’s public justification for spiking the seemingly promising peace talks is particularly illogical. From a veteran’s perspective, I find it frankly insulting. He claims he canceled the talks and Taliban trip to Camp David in response to a rather commonplace and ubiquitous bombing that left yet another American soldier dead. Well, by foolishly ditching the only near-term hope for peace and military withdrawal, The Donald just guaranteed that who-knows-how-many more troops will needlessly die in a failing war in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, the pundits at the helm of corporate media programs, and party-line Democrats and Republicans, only pretend to care about the lives and well-being of America’s servicemen and women. Behind their self-conscious, over-adulation of military members lies an unspeakable dirty secret: these people are pawns of the military-industrial-complex, for whom the troops are pawns in their partisan political games. When mixed with widespread public apathy regarding foreign affairs, the result is an utter abandonment of the soldiers that all purport to love. Which is exactly what the mainstream media’s (even Republican!) vacuous critique of Trump’s planned but canceled 9/11 week peace announcement is: a betrayal of the troops and a death sentence for more American soldiers.
Now, let me be clear: as a New Yorker from a blue collar Staten Island neighborhood chock full of cops and firemen, I don’t take the 9/11 attacks lightly. In fact, I took the whole tragedy personally and long seethed with anger against bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the likely complicit Saudi kingdom, for that matter. September 11, 2001 left two of my FDNY uncles forever emotionally scarred, took the life of a dear family friend, sent my father fleeing for his life from an office across the street from the Twin Towers, and renamed countless streets in my borough to honor dead firemen.
That said, call me provocative or unpatriotic, but I thought that Trump’s original reported plan to announce a peace deal with the Taliban – and impending end to the US war in Afghanistan – to be quite fitting. Consider it a sad, yet appropriate, final bookend to the still prevalent and absurd notion that America’s longest war still carries any connection to 9/11. The ill-advised, unwinnable, foolish attempt at nation-building in Afghanistan and ongoing stalemate combating Taliban farm boys, has long since lost any 9/11-based justification. To pretend otherwise is an exercise in self-delusion.
No matter, Trump’s "instincts" have again been stifled by the unelected proconsuls of the behemoth national security state, and the president has broken his promises to end "dumb" wars yet again. And so it seems the show, in this case war, must go on…
Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com. His work has appeared in the LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Truthdig, Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.
Copyright 2019 Danny Sjursen