Trump Risks Repeating History in Afghanistan

By David Malcolm

In 1842,  a few men including Assitant Surgeon William Brydon made their way to the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. Part of his skull was hacked away after a blow from a sword, but Brydon had stowed a magazine in his hat which saved his life. When asked what had happened to the army he was with, his response of ‘I am the army’ was more than a little distressing. Out of 4,500 soldiers and 12,000 civilians that had entered the region, William Byrdon, along with a handful of sepoys (soldiers from Britain’s empire) were all that remained. It was the end of Britain’s disastrous Anglo-Afghan War and, in many ways, a sign of events to come

175 years after Britain’s first devastating foray into Afghanistan, we find Donald Trump who has decided to once again break his own campaign promise and inject more troops into a war which he himself called a ‘wasteful shame’. It has been 16 years since the USA and its allies entered Afghanistan and while there has been decent progress, it has been an uphill battle to defeat the Tablian, re-build a shattered and deeply corrupt nation and keep the population safe and win their trust.

It seems that people’s worst fears have been confirmed. Desperate for some sense of achievement and stalled by his lack of legislative victories, Trump has decided to turn from Congress to the military. Surely, he might suppose, everyone can get behind the idea of defeating terrorism. He doesn’t even have to invade Afghanistan because the US is already there.

I sure Geroge Bush Jr had a similar idea of defeating terrorism back in 2001 just as the Soviets had the idea of taming Afghanistan and rapidly modernising it back in the 1980s. In fact, the latter invasion is a little ironic because the Soviets were defeated by local tribesmen and religious fanatics using weapons secretly sold to them by the United States.

In fact, Afghanistan has always been known to historians as ‘the graveyard of empires’ for good reason. It is a region that Britain, Russia and America have struggled to tame it and found to be wanting. It is a country that even Alexander the Great found difficult to tame, even when he married a princess from the area (though it is an interesting strategy for Trump to consider).

Donald Trump is ignorant of history and focussed on winning, hence his new policy. I can’t help but feel that it was Trump, not the military advisors, who suggested adding more troops. Changing up the strategy makes little difference since the problems are probably going to be the same as when the US arrived. Like Bush and Obama, Trump is faced with the same bad options and nothing he says will change that.

Of course, I’m not surprised that this action breaks one of Trump’s biggest promises to avoid getting sucked into military adventures overseas that prove costly. I’m not surprised that his expansion of the military comes at the cost of ruthlessly cutting vital services and projects including a plan to reduce the spread of domestic terrorism devised by Obama.

I’m not even surprised that his actions are welcomed by the UK government who clearly have no idea how happy people were to be leaving Iraq and Afghanistan behind. One hopes that their support is mere lip-service and not a commitment to rejoin the fray. After all, Britain has struggled in Afghanistan before and it has failed as America will no doubt stumble.

Some might argue that America’s superior might and technology will prevail but it has yet to show any tangible results. Besides, anyone from the Soviet invasion will tell you that the USSR poured men, money and material into Afghanistan to almost no real effect, partly thanks to American help.

Trump might not last long enough to see his new strategy take shape, but America will have to watch the same issues and problems develop once again. It will have to clean up the mess it has made. Maybe things will get better in Afghanistan but given the past 15 years, my hopes are not high. More likely, this is something Trump will point to in a vain attempt to save his falling poll numbers and plug his leaking ship of state.

Afghanistan is actually a pretty fitting statement for Trump’s presidency. Another broken promise, another desperate attempt to salvage his reputation, only this time, it will be paid for in blood, sweat and toil from the US military. I have endless respect for those who volunteer to serve in their nation’s military but I question whether it is worth the inevitable destruction and death, to hold onto a region that has destroyed bigger empires than America.

Trump has slowly set the stage for America’s demise and once again, the graveyard of empires will bury another victim’s hopes and dreams.

I'm a historian based in the UK who likes jumping from one thought to next. I love to learn new things and explore other ideas.

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