Sen. John McCain, the veteran lawmaker and Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is not the kind of guy who likes to wait. He doesn’t have patience for partisan nonsense, has an independent streak that is increasingly becoming extinct in Washington politics, and is quick to call out people who he believes are slowing the legislative process down, embarrassing the U.S. Senate’s institutional prestige, or not fulfilling their promises.
Sen. Rand Paul is McCain’s favorite punching bag, but President Donald Trump’s national security team is slowly eclipsing the junior senator from Kentucky as Enemy Number One. After months of waiting for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to deliver an Afghanistan war strategy to Congress, McCain isn’t willing to wait any longer. “[N]early seven months into President Trump’s administration, we’ve had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened,” McCain wrote in a press release. So, he’s filed an amendment to the defense policy bill outlining a strategy for the White House.
McCain’s bold parliamentary move would be something to celebrate if it weren’t for what was in the amendment. The plan he offers is so ambitious, so open-ended, and so status-quo that it would set the U.S. military up for a perpetual occupation of the country.
You can read the amendment here, but the plan essentially calls for a “long-term, open-ended counterterrorism partnership” between the U.S. and the Afghan government, with more troops, more tactical authority for the commanders prosecuting the war, and a more frenetic pace of military operations against the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The main objectives: to ensure that Afghanistan never reverts back to a terrorist sanctuary; prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the Afghan government; establish an Afghan security force strong and capable enough to provide security throughout the country; and set the security conditions so the Taliban have no option but to negotiate a peace settlement. U.S. advisers would be deployed closer to the front-lines with their Afghan counterparts, and assistance to Pakistan would be gradually curtailed as long as Islamabad is continues to provide support to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network.
Some of McCain’s proposals are reasonable and indeed should be applauded for admitting hard truths. Pakistan, for instance, has received over $30 billion in U.S. security aid since 2002 despite the fact that its counterterrorism policy is half-in and half-out. Performance benchmarks on the government in Kabul in exchange for continued American military and economic support is a long time coming; one can make a good case that the corruption running wild in the Afghan political system is a big factor of why the Taliban remains as strong as it is today.
But McCain’s war plan is, on its face, a nation-building effort that would require such extensive investment from the U.S. over such a long period of time that it wouldn’t be a surprise if somebody took a time machine into the Year 2034 and learned that thousands of American soldiers were still in the fight. We’ve been in Afghanistan for sixteen years already, but if McCain had his way, we would be there for another sixteen years, pursuing goals (like a terrorist-free Afghanistan) that are simply impossible to accomplish and therefore would set up the U.S. for mission failure. If there is anything that should be abundantly clear at this point in the Afghan campaign, it’s that you can pour tens of thousands of additional foreign troops into the country and $4-5 billion of U.S. taxpayer dollars every year into the Afghan military and still come up with a lackluster result — a country where many (though certainly not all) Afghan politicians and senior Afghan military commanders care more about their personal prosperity and their ethnic group’s political power than security, protection and economic prospects of the Afghan people.
When are we finally going to learn that Afghanistan is immune to a foreign solution? Apparently not soon enough.