Trump’s Afghan Military Solution Will Fail
James Dorsey tells Paul Jay that Trump’s plan is to force the Taliban to negotiate, but there is no reason for them to do so
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. Donald Trump continued the circus show that is his presidency and was his campaign with a speech which was a rant, a tirade, an attack on just about everybody who says anything critical of Donald Trump. I personally, I have to confess, I’m enjoying every moment of this. I think the more dysfunctional this presidency is, the better for the people of the world. I would hate to see the same objectives executed by someone who seems to be more functional and looks certainly more presidential, that’s Mike Pence, so I’m not one of the ones that is in any hurry for Donald Trump to exit the scene.
What do leaders around the world think of all this, and then particularly, what do the Chinese leaders think of this? Add to that Pakistan and India, because it was only the day before this that Trump delivered a speech on what was supposedly new American strategy in Afghanistan. There wasn’t a heck of a lot new about it, except much more inflated rhetoric about Pakistan’s role in what they called harboring and creating safe havens for the Taliban, and maybe even more, bringing in, inviting India into Afghanistan as a major investor, which, greatly inflaming the Pakistan-Indian tensions.
Now joining us to dissect all of this is James Dorsey, who joins us from Singapore. James is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and he writes extensively on the Middle East and on Asia and on geopolitics. Thanks for joining us.
JAMES DORSEY: My pleasure to be with you.
PAUL JAY: It’s hard to know where to start with Trump. His Afghan speech called for essentially upping the stakes of pressure on Pakistan and its support for the Taliban. There’s nothing new about all this. In fact, Pakistan’s support for the Taliban, at least in the beginning, certainly earlier support of Pakistan’s support for Al-Qaeda’s jihadist forces in Afghanistan, was U.S. policy. This whole thing is rooted in Brzezinski and Carter and the idea of sucking the Russians into Afghanistan, and working with jihadists and working with Afghan fundamentalists that they want to call Islamic terrorists, this was U.S. policy, and Pakistan’s just sort of continuing it in its own interest. But all that being said, this policy of Trump weighting in to bring India, tipping the balance to some extent on how the U.S. plays its cards in that region, and with the ultimate real confrontation, potentially, with China, which, both have serious positioning in Pakistan and tensions with India, how, before we get into the deeper geopolitics of this, how do these countries take anything the Americans do right now seriously when it’s President Trump?
JAMES DORSEY: Well, for starters, I think, because it’s the United States and what the United States represents, you can’t ignore it, no matter who is at the head, who is President of the United States. Trump adds a layer of difficulty to that because he’s unpredictable, because he’s full of flops, and because he, obviously, mitigates between, on the one hand, a very rational speech, whatever you think of the policy that he laid out on South Asia and Afghanistan, and the kind of very emotional rant that we saw in Phoenix, Arizona, merely 24 hours later.
What that means is that on the one hand, foreign leaders have to take Trump into account, but in many ways, will look at ways in which they can assert their own interests simply because the United States no longer is a reliable partner, or if it’s not a partner, it’s not even a reliable force.
PAUL JAY: Just to recap, his main plan, he’s apparently not saying how many, increase troops, but they’ve already announced the new troops are already arriving in the next few days in Afghanistan. There’s some talk about three, 3,900, 4,000 new U.S. troops, but if you have now set the bar that the United States cannot leave Afghanistan without essentially forcing some kind of negotiation, creating some kind of government structure there, negotiations that the Taliban may someday be part of, you’re essentially calling for endless war for anyone, I think, knows the region. That is not going to end with 4,000 troops. That was just to recap, I think, the main point of what Trump called for in his Afghan speech plus the inclusion of India. You’re sitting in Beijing. The Chinese are the other uber-power in this region. How do you take all this, and what are your next moves?
I know within just a couple of hours of Trump’s speech, China issued a–Foreign Minister Yi issued a statement in support of Pakistan, and then the Pakistani Foreign Minister, he issued a statement talking about how they’re going to rely more on this trilateral committee, which is India, Pakistan, and … I’m sorry, Afghanistan, Pakistan, mediated by China. I mean, does all this really lead to a bigger Chinese role, I guess is what I’m asking.
JAMES DORSEY: Well, the bigger Chinese role is already there. China’s investing more than $50 billion into Pakistan, primarily into energy and into infrastructure projects. It’s the single largest investment it’s making as part of its One Belt One Road initiative, the initiative that’s supposed to create this infrastructure linkage across the Eurasian landmass. China already has enormous stakes in Pakistan, and enormous interests. The problem here is that in some ways, China’s attitude is a mystery, at least a mystery to me. That is to say, China has supported Pakistan in its support for militant groups and militant leaders, or at least its selective support for some militant leaders. It’s only a few weeks ago that China vetoed, if I’m not incorrect, for the third time in a year and a half, the designating of a Pakistani militant by the UN Security Council as a global terrorist.
The mystery about this is … The obvious assumption is that they’re doing this because this militant is anti-Indian, very active in disputed Kashmir, and therefore it needles the Indians. The mystery is that the heart of the Chinese investment in Pakistan is the province of Balochistan in western Pakistan, which borders on Iran. That’s where the key port is, and that’s where the road, from where the road-railway linkages are supposed to go into northwestern China. And the northwestern Chinese end of this this is particularly important, because that’s where the Chinese have problems with a restive Muslim population, Turkic Muslim population, and that they’re hoping that through economic growth in Pakistan, economic growth will be duplicated in Xinjiang, northwestern Chinese province, and that’s how they’re going to solve their own problem. Now, if you’re protecting militants, you’re not going to pacify an already volatile part of Pakistan that has been racked by violence, multiple attacks killing scores of people, including Chinese nationals.
PAUL JAY: Meaning Balochistan.
JAMES DORSEY: Meaning Balochistan, yes.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, there’s been numerous terrorist attacks in Balochistan, many targeting Chinese. The guy you’re talking about, tell me his name again.
JAMES DORSEY: Masood Azhar.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. I mean, he’s been linked, apparently, to terrorist attacks in India. I mean, it seems like you’re having, like Trump and the people around him seem to be more committing to this, not that it’s a complete departure from Obama, but the idea of an American-Indian bloc versus a Chinese-Pakistani, perhaps Iranian, bloc, but why are the Chinese doing this? I mean, why can’t China play both … Why can’t they play this game with Pakistan without alienating India? They seem to be poking a stick in India’s eye.
JAMES DORSEY: Well, you’ve had rising tensions with India for a while, also along the border where there are unsettled border issues between China and India. But what I think you’re going to see happening is that if, indeed, the Trump administration moves to pressure the Pakistanis on the issue of support for militant groups, the Pakistanis are going to look at China and Russia as their escape route. Frankly, what American invests into Pakistan pales in comparison to what the Russians are investing. Sorry, the Chinese are investing. So aligning themselves with China and, on a secondary level, with Russia, makes perfect sense. I think, ultimately, the Pakistanis are choosing for a short-term solution, and that is going to backfire on them, because they do have a problem in terms of their support for, or selective support for militant groups. There’s going to be a point where the Chinese and the Russians, but primarily the Chinese, are going to say to the Pakistanis, “Enough is enough. You’ve got to clean up your act.”
PAUL JAY: The longer-term projection of this, if in fact–I say “Trump,” it’s Trump, but very much the professionals around Trump, the various generals, to a large extent, of sections of the foreign policy establishment, who are behind this quote-unquote “new Afghan strategy.” But if India really is to take a bigger role in Afghanistan, which Trump is asking them to do, in fact pressuring them to do … In his speech, we’ll play a clip of this, he actually says, “India, you have such big market in the United States, and you make so much money out of the American economy and such.” Like, “You owe us something, and what you owe us is to come into Afghanistan,” that I thought was kind of weird all into itself.
JAMES DORSEY: I think, let’s take a step back. I think you have three basic issues with the policy that Trump laid out. The Indians are present in Afghanistan, and they have very strong interests there. In fact, part of the Pakistani attitude and the hostility or the tensions that exist with Afghanistan, and Pakistani support for the Taliban, has to do with the Indians. The Pakistanis are determined at whatever price to reduce Indian influence in Afghanistan, so what Trump is essentially doing is, he’s … And it doesn’t matter how many troops he puts into Afghanistan, because the problem is not solvable militarily, if it’s at all solvable, and therefore he’s going to be aggravating the situation by escalating things on the military front. He’s going to pressure Pakistan, which is going to … And he’s asking India at the same time to come to America’s aid in Afghanistan, which means that you’re escalating the whole conflict at a moment in which you’re pushing Pakistan closer to those who already have tensions with the Indians, namely the Chinese.
PAUL JAY: How dangerous is it?
JAMES DORSEY: It’s dangerous. I mean, I wouldn’t go as far as saying we’re risking nuclear conflict, although, of course, we’re dealing with two nuclear states, but what I do think you’re getting is a situation in which America will be sucked in further into the war in Afghanistan. I don’t see how they’re going to come out of this with what Trump called an honorable and satisfactory solution, although to be fair to him, if you look very closely at what he said, he, by implication, differentiated between, on the one hand, groups like the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, and on the other hand, the Taliban. He held open the door for negotiations with the Taliban. The problem, of course, is, why would the Taliban enter into negotiations if the military conflict is not going to force them to do so? That’s unlikely.
On the other hand, you’re going to get stronger Pakistani support for the Taliban, as if and when the United States supports or pressures Pakistan to diminish its relations with militant groups, the Pakistanis are going to move further away from the U.S., and that, again, is going to add to the tensions between Pakistan and India. So you’re getting into a vicious circle of which there is no immediate good exit.
PAUL JAY: What do you think’s really driving U.S., Trump foreign policy here? I mean, if I’m in the arms industry, I’m salivating. The volatility in the region is, generally volatility is good if you know how to play it, even in the finance side. What are the real objectives here? Because what they’re talking about seems rather obvious isn’t going to lead anywhere, at least not in the normal … Not in the stated objectives, at any rate.
JAMES DORSEY: To me, it seems, if you look at seven month, or whatever it is, of Trump in office, there were two major constants. One is, he believes in military force, and he believes that military force can achieve things. Two, his almost single-minded focus is terrorism, and he believes that the problem of militant groups can be resolved militarily. I don’t think that’s true in Afghanistan. I don’t think that’s true in Iraq, and I don’t think it’s true in Syria, but until he realizes that what … Exclusive use of military power, rather than the use of military power and law enforcement that is embedded in far greater policies and the social, economic, and political issues, and those are not short-term, achievable objectives, but unless you embed your military efforts in the broader policy, they’re going to fail.
PAUL JAY: All right, thanks for joining us, James. I hope we start doing this regularly.
JAMES DORSEY: I would like to do so. Thank you very much for having me.
PAUL JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.