How the Forever War Brought Us Donald Trump

Jedediah Purdy in Dissent:

ScreenHunter_2805 Aug. 25 23.38Donald Trump’s big speech on Afghanistan didn’t announce much change from the Obama policies he complained about, except in style. And the style was unmistakable: Trump blamed his predecessor for leaving him with no good options, promised to untie soldiers’ hands and to get tough with allies, boasted about his problem-solving powers, and promised that we would “win.” He managed to squeeze in a little quasi-fascist rhetoric, calling on Americans to “heal” by displaying the unity of soldiers—another confirmation that he has no sense at all of the rhythm or feeling of a free society. He warned that Pakistan would have to embrace “civilization,” giving a little neo-colonial nudge to what was otherwise a repudiation of “nation-building.” Bombast and wheedling aside, the speech confirmed that Trump and his generals see no way to redeem the Afghanistan adventure but would rather drag along than openly accept defeat—and the political responsibility for any major terror attack that followed. Even the switch in tone is becoming a set-piece: This is how Republican populists talk about the Forever War, while Democrats get to the same place by invoking prudence, humanitarianism, and a sheen of legality. No president escapes, but they decorate their failure with bunting of different colors and cuts.

So Trump, besides being a vulgarian, is a prisoner of the same situation that he attacked Barack Obama for mishandling. Now in Obama’s old office, Trump is mimicking the policy that Obama announced early in his own first term: more troops, on the pretext that they will bring a decisive end to the Forever War.

This war has a knack for thwarting promises to end it, or at least revealing their hollowness. Obama himself ran on a version of such promises, only to become the country’s longest-sitting wartime president. Trump, too, is a creature of the Forever War.

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