President Donald Trump recommitted America to the war in Afghanistan this week, promising that the U.S. would no longer be “nation-building.” Instead, Trump said, U.S. forces will focus more narrowly on training Afghanistan’s military and targeting the Taliban and other terrorist groups.
While the President gave the Pentagon authority to raise troop levels in Afghanistan, he also said that he would no longer announce how many troops are stationed there. “We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities,” Trump said. “Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.”
There are currently about 8,400 troops currently serving in Afghanistan. American military generals have suggested that a few thousand more troops are needed to push back against the Taliban.
America’s ultimate goal, Trump said, is to force the Taliban to negotiate for peace. In that sense, the plan is no different than former President Barack Obama’s. But unlike Obama, Trump has abandoned the timetables that regulated U.S. troop withdrawals.
Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) has been characteristically silent on the subject. But his record reveals what he might say if he were willing to speak out.
One of Paulsen’s key issue statements — dramatically entitled “Defending Our Homeland” — argues forcefully in favor of protecting the U.S. from its “enemies” and “those who want to harm us.” Though it stops short of actually condemning terrorists or terrorism, Paulsen clearly favors a strong military — he’s voted to increase military spending in 97.8 percent of the opportunities he had to do so. And in 2011, Paulsen voted against removing American armed forces from Afghanistan.
The result, thanks to Paulsen and the other hawks in Congress, is that America is still in Afghanistan 16 years after invading in 2001.
Following the president’s announcement, Wesley Morgan and Bryan Bender of Politico reported that “some of the Pentagon’s own experts expect to see few dramatic changes despite the president’s soaring promises about America’s longest-ever war.”
Afghani leaders have expressed similar doubts. Jamaluddin Badr, a member of the Afghan High Peace Council, said, “That’s the same strategy going on the last two decades. He said we’re going to win, but he didn’t make it clear how we’re going to win.”
Part of Paulsen’s “Defending Our Homeland” statement reads, “A strong national defense paired with a clear and concise foreign policy is critical to meeting the security challenges we face both internationally and domestically.” If Paulsen truly wants a “clear and concise” American foreign policy, he must stand up and oppose the president’s renewed war in Afghanistan.