Black Hawk Down II? Trump backs Afghanistan parody as Mattis takes fire
James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis is apparently living up to his namesake. Arriving in the Afghan capital Wednesday to meet with the country’s president, he must have asked himself whether he has taken leave of his senses when a number of rockets were fired at the military side of Kabul airport after Mattis landed.
That’s the high-security military side of Kabul airport, teeming with NATO troops armed with the latest bells-and-whistles assault rifles and body armor.
The reports of both Taliban and ISIS accepting responsibility for the shooting match on the secretary of state’s plane are comical. Mattis was actually no longer on the plane when the attack happened, but the incident crystallizes the scope of just how lawless Afghanistan has become in recent years and the herculean task ahead for the retired US army general.
Armed Taliban and ISIS fighters are free to roam around what is supposed to be a military airfield during the visit of the most senior US figure who believes that Afghanistan is winnable. Is this a new sitcom on the Vox Comedy network? Is Alec Baldwin going to appear impersonating the president with US troops in Kandahar and tell them to not look at an eclipse of the sun “as it hurts your eyes”? Or is khaki-clad Christiane Amanpour going to do live pieces to camera talking us through a 'Black Hawk Down' fiasco in the streets of Kabul, days after the Afghan government takes delivery of its new US-made choppers?
What are we witnessing with Trump’s latest Afghanistan ploy to send 3,000 US troops there? Trump is the only US president who positively revels in his own ignorance of the world and actually enjoys rejecting the advice of respected experts, recently ridiculed by The New Yorker as “witless.”
His ignorance of what is happening in the Middle East is legendary and still makes many cringe today. Who can forget him telling a US TV host that “we bombed Iraq” just after he issued orders for a Tomahawk missile attack on a Syrian air force base. Or more recently in the Rose Garden at the White House when he said, in front of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri: “Lebanon is on the front lines in the fight against ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah,” when in fact the Lebanese Shiite group is actually part of the government in Beirut and had just won a major battle against ISIS.
Pity those who work in the business of satire, as you really can’t make this stuff up.
This is the crux of his Afghanistan campaign: a stunning concoction of ignorance, arrogance and ballistic stupidity. No world leaders believe it is a war which can be won against neither the Taliban nor ISIS there, but one which will only be fed by more western intervention. The Americans can only make things worse. Yet to Trump there is no embarrassment nor shame that his recent policy announcement to beef up the presence of the US military was not met with any calls of support from any of America’s traditional allies. Indeed, even Germany went to the extent of stating it won’t send any troops, as did India.
Western media took the India stance to be a watermark for just how wrong Trump’s vision is there. According to Deutsche Welle, “New Delhi has provided more than $3 billion to assist the Afghan government in the battle against the Taliban, whose regime was toppled by the US in 2001. India has been Afghanistan's biggest regional donor since the US invasion of Afghanistan and has been involved in building the war-ravaged country's infrastructure. India is also providing training to the Afghan army and police."
"Indian troops won't be able to help Afghanistan in any case. It will only drag the country into an unwinnable and costly intervention and tarnish its positive image," Rajesh Rajagopalan, an expert on international politics said.
Yet unwinnable or not, Trump wades into a quagmire which has swallowed bigger, better and tougher opponents than what he and 'Mad Dog' Mattis can offer. So what’s really the deal?
The real deal in Afghanistan
Trump and Mattis are not interested in defeating the Taliban or ISIS in Afghanistan but merely carrying out something more sinister, which is to generate a base for international news coverage while also keeping the military industrial complex busy in a war with terrorists. If Trump were to pull out US troops from Afghanistan as he said he would leading up to becoming president, he would be seen to be the only US president to support the creation of a global terror state in Central Asia. Inevitably, with Afghanistan on the edge of an abyss already, it would fall entirely back into the hands of the Taliban, and endless documentaries would fill the airwaves about the failure of America and Trump.
As we have seen on numerous and hilarious occasions in the last eight months, Trump’s entire identity is about promoting himself at any cost, even if that means at the loss of American lives. And with James Mattis, who served as a former general in the Marines in various Middle East hotspots, he has met his match.
Mattis has clearly convinced him that previous policies of Obama and George W. Bush were flawed and that some victory can be salvaged, even if those battles are isolated and insignificant. Given the wholesale disregard for war crimes and the high numbers of civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq – recently exposed by Human Rights Watch in its report on US attacks on civilian locations – we will no doubt see the same strategy in Afghanistan: bombing on a grand scale with scant regard to either intelligence or human rights.
And such a policy, of course, will keep the US forces busy, and no doubt keep Jim Mattis in work as he looks to protect himself from the petulant and idiotic firing frenzy of White House staff and advisors which Trump carries out when they fail to provide him with the press coverage which he craves.
With Afghanistan, 3,000 troops (or 3,500 as even Mattis and Trump can’t even coordinate their plans at this stage), it is a good investment for Trump – an individual so desperate to fool the media into believing he is more popular than the reality, that he paid actors to role play political supporters, when he was a candidate for president in 2015, according to Hollywood Reporter.
Trump has shown there is literally no limit to how far he will go for self-promotion. And Afghanistan is a vital part of that plan. A war in a country which most Americans can’t find on a map, where there are terrorists, where it’s difficult for journalists to work independently and where much US pride needs to be retained.
Bad guys and click bait
Bad guys will be killed. And woe betides those pesky human rights organizations who send investigators there to establish just how many innocent civilians are wiped out to get the desired press release or media kit for those really nice journalists at Fox, like Sean Hannity. Recently the Fox anchor proved he’s worth all of his $80 million fortune on social media, by managing to both smoke an e-cigarette and drink from a bottle of water during video segments.
Yet, cheap click bait stunts aside, there are major, fundamental flaws in his plan which may well ruin both Mattis and Trump. It’s not merely that the Taliban hold more ground now than, say, in 2010 when the US had 100,000 soldiers there; it’s not even that there is a new, jacked up level of suicide bombing from ISIS who are new entrants to the Afghanistan theater; and it’s not even the actual people of this country no longer believe in the US mission. It’s something else.
Afghanistan is a trap, which many have fallen into, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov understands but Trump doesn’t. In Iraq and Syria, the locals lent some support to the US campaign against ISIS, which they saw as both extremist and "foreign." In Afghanistan, local people don’t support the US troops and their objectives; Americans are seen as a foreign ruling power which is unwelcome.
But Trump and Mattis are wrong on other levels which Lavrov seizes: negotiating with the Taliban from the point of weakness. The Russian foreign minister described the strategy as a “dead end,” as it mainly relies on the use of force. The strategy also allows negotiations with the Taliban without any preconditions, which is a significant flaw, Lavrov said recently.
Afghanistan today is a bigger rat trap than ever before. The more you kill, the greater the determination of the local population to overthrow you and support insurgents. The rat trap, which works more efficiently the bigger and dumber the rats are, is primed with its bait. All it needs now is a couple of “witless” rodents to blithely sniff it out and stand on its base. The fact the Americans have never succeeded in securing Kabul during their 16-year term is both shocking and embarrassing. The fact that now they are unable to even secure the military side of the capital’s airport – a lair of terrorists and their hardware – should be a wakeup call to Mattis that his campaign is more likely going to be a parody Hollywood Vietnam war movie like Tropical Thunder than a serious military venture. It’s hard to pity a nation whose people fail to stop their own leaders from such madness, simply to further their political gains. God Bless America.
Martin Jay is based in Beirut and can be followed at @MartinRJay
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.