in Civilization

Trump Is Inviting Strategic Disaster In Central Asia

Afghanistan is a landlocked country. Everything that American troops need to operate there, from bullets to boots to beans, must pass through or over another country first. This is a basic geopolitical reality.

It would therefore be strategic insanity for the commander in chief to start a pissing match with Pakistan, the route through which almost all food, fuel, and supply reaches American troops in Afghanistan. This is a basic tenet of military science: campaigns are limited and shaped by their logistics.

So of course the dumbest geopolitical and logistical choice is exactly what Donald Trump wants to do.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has been informing members of Congress that it will announce as soon as Wednesday plans to cut off “security assistance” to Pakistan, congressional aides said on Wednesday, a day after the White House warned Islamabad it would have to do more to maintain U.S. aid.

[…] U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Tuesday that Washington would withhold $255 million in assistance to Pakistan. Her statement followed an angry tweet from Trump on Monday that the United States had been rewarded with “nothing but lies and deceit” for giving Pakistan billions in aid.

Pakistan civilian and military chiefs rejected what they termed “incomprehensible” U.S. comments and summoned U.S. Ambassador David Hale to explain Trump’s tweet.

Pakistani support for the Haqqani network, which operates in Afghanistan, has always been a problem for the US. Complicating the picture, Pakistani militants have also operated from safe bases in Afghanistan. The “tribal belt” where the two countries meet has been an intractable, messy dilemma for the last two American presidents to navigate, and there has always been bipartisan congressional pressure to draw a harder line with Pakistan.

So what makes this situation suddenly so intolerable for Trump? In all likelihood, it is that he feels exasperated whenever his staff tries to brief him on the matter. All he needs to understand is that Pakistan is full of Muslims and full of problems. It is much easier for him to make an enemy of Pakistan than to engage the government in Islamabad. Not by accident, US-Pakistan relations have been in free-fall for months.

This decision is ostensibly aimed at getting Pakistan to cooperate against terrorism, but it will end up pushing Islamabad into the arms of China. It will certainly hurt American interests in the region, and may even evolve into a military debacle. Think Dien Bien Phu, but with the Islamic State involved.

Pakistan has shut off ground supplies before, though not air transport, so there have been real efforts to establish alternative routes into Afghanistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan remains the primary logistical corridor in and out of that country. Iran is not going to give Donald Trump overflight  permission; Turkmenistan is carefully neutral; perhaps Vladimir Putin can arrange something?

Prediction is a terribly risky business. Nevertheless, it is worth saying that “who lost Afghanistan?” could become a painful question for any president, let alone an unpopular one with Russian baggage.

Geopolitical calculation is also inherently risky. As Afghanistan’s government has alleged and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has acknowledged, Moscow has clearly armed the Taliban. Putin wants to avenge the Soviets’ suffering in their war against the Mujaheddin; as a result, he expects that his grateful friend in Washington will need his help some day.

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