Ben Boychuk on Trump’s Afghanistan Speech

American Greatness Managing Editor, Ben Boychuk, joined Chris Buskirk on the Seth and Chris show last week to discuss the president’s proposed “new strategy” in Afghanistan.  Have a listen or read the transcript below.

Chris Buskirk:   This is the Seth and Chris Show. I am Chris Buskirk. Seth is out today, but he’ll be back with us tomorrow. But, guess what? Instead of Seth this hour, we are joined by my friend and colleague, Ben Boychuk, managing editor of American Greatness. Ben, how are you?

Ben Boychuk:   I’m great. I was hoping to talk to Seth. I’m-

Chris Buskirk:  Well, we can have Bill put you on hold and he’ll be with you in 22 short hours.

Ben Boychuk:   Great. Great.

Chris Buskirk:   You don’t have anything else to do, do you?

Ben Boychuk:   No. No. Not at all. Not at all.

Chris Buskirk:   Perfect. I’ll just go back about my business puttering here in the studio. Ben-

Ben Boychuk:  Just make whistle noises for the next 45 minutes.

Chris Buskirk:   You or me or both of us?

Ben Boychuk:  We could have a duet.

Chris Buskirk:   A concerto. I think we’d have to have Bill involved for us to be anything approaching a concerto. Otherwise, you’re right, it would be a duet.

Ben Boychuk:  There you go.

Chris Buskirk:  Ben, quick question, just off the cuff, what was your takeaway on President Trump’s speech on Afghanistan last night?

Ben Boychuk:   I should preface it by saying I wasn’t able to listen to it live. I was at my son’s Back to School night at his high school, so I didn’t get to hear it. I saw reactions to it before I got a chance to scrutinize it. I read the text a few times today and I would say, it’s sort of a mix of disappointment and guarded optimism. I know several of our friends have not loved it, but I … as the president himself said in his speech, he said, “Look, I realized I’ve been saying for a long time we need to get out, but it is true that once you get behind the desk in the Oval Office your perspective seems to change on some of these issues.” There was a lot not to like about it. The main thing not to like about it is that we seem to be escalating there.

What I did like about it was that he seems to be escalating, at least the rhetoric (and we’ll see what happens in terms of actions) against Pakistan, which has been a real pain in terms of harboring the folks that we’re over there to kill. In doing so, he may strengthen our relationship with India, which might be okay. But when it comes to just killing terrorists, we’ve been doing that now for 17 years and we’re nowhere closer to victory than we were when we started.

Chris Buskirk:  Further away, Ben. I was astounded. I was saying this in the last hour that here we are, 17 years later, 714 billion dollars spent specifically on the Afghan war. 2,400 lives lost, to say nothing of all the other casualties, and as of this moment, the Taliban controls more of Afghanistan than it did on September 11, 2001.

Ben Boychuk:  Right. One thing about that, though, when I was getting ready to come on, I’m curious. I often wonder when we talk about terrorism and this long war, I sometimes wonder, “What would Angelo Codevilla, our friend Angelo Codevilla, have to say?” I went back and I looked at the piece that he wrote for the Claremont Review of Books right after September 11, 2001. It ran in the Autumn 2001 issue. It was posted in November of 2001. I know. I was there. I remember at the time, Angelo said, “Look, Afghanistan and the Taliban really aren’t our business. Because the Taliban isn’t really interested in anything beyond their own borders.” Ultimately, what Angelo argued was Afghanistan is a side show. He warned that if we got into the nation building business, we would rue the day. And we have. And we did.

Chris Buskirk:  Consider the day rued.

Ben Boychuk:  The point is … I would encourage people to go back and look. The piece holds up pretty well. There’s some things that are maybe not so much, but the name of the piece was, “Victory: What It Will Take to Win,” and you can find it at Claremont Institute’s website. Essentially, what he said was, “Look, we can bring some of these terrorists to justice. We could kill Obama. We could even not-

Chris Buskirk:   I think you mean Osama.

Ben Boychuk:  Excuse me. Oh my God. Oh my God. That’s-

Chris Buskirk:   The Southern-

Ben Boychuk:   This is live radio.

Chris Buskirk:  Yeah. You’ll have a letter from the Southern Poverty Law Center shortly.

Ben Boychuk:   Oh goodness. “We could kill Osama bin Laden and we could knock out the Taliban, but ultimately, it’s not going to get us any closer to the victory that we want.” He was right. About that, he was right. When President Trump yesterday was talking about we’re not so much interested in building nations, we’re interested in killing terrorists. Okay, that’s fine as far as it goes. I still don’t know what victory looks like, though.

Chris Buskirk:    Yeah. This is the problem. This is my main complaint with the president’s speech last night is … I’ve got the text in front of me. He outlines three points. It’s the why. Here’s why I think we should increase our troop levels in Afghanistan. He says, “First,” … here’s his first point. He says, “First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made. Especially the sacrifices of lives.” Okay. Yeah. That’s just a rhetorical device in my mind. It doesn’t tell me anything.

It goes on. He says, “The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory. They deserve the tools they need and the trust they have earned to fight and to win.” Okay. That, again, that doesn’t say anything to me. Right? Yes, we support the troops. That’s basically what that is. Hey, support the troops. We do. But, it doesn’t do the critical thing, which is what I’ve argued, which is the tool that the troops in Afghanistan most need is a definition of victory. What’s the goal?

Right. And that’s no place to be found in this speech. And that’s what is most disturbing about it.

Ben Boychuk:   Right. Right. Really, it’s elliptical and it’s vague. Again, I thought the best part of the speech was when he called out Pakistan.

Chris Buskirk:  Yep.

Ben Boychuk:  Which has been … President Obama did, too, to some extent but, we’ve always tried to walk this line because Pakistan, of course, has nuclear weapons and is dangerous. We’ve always tried to walk this line with Pakistan where we pretend that they’re allies with us, but at the same time they’re harboring all these bad guys in a part of their country that they claim they don’t really control. If we-

Chris Buskirk:  They’re what high school girls call “frenemies.”

Ben Boychuk:  Right. If the best thing that could happen is we move … we’re cozying up to Pakistan’s mortal enemy, India. If we can get the Pakistani government to crack down on the guys in their midst, that would actually get us closer to the victory that we want because what we need are big regimes that make terrorism possible, the regimes that harbor these guys, afraid. That the consequences will be more than just sternly worded letters and shaking of fists. That’s partly the reason why Afghanistan was a side show in all of this, because Afghanistan has never really been governable. Conquest of Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. Great Britain sunk lives and treasure there. The Soviet Union couldn’t do it. We certainly have no interest in making Afghanistan anything like a Jeffersonian democracy. We just don’t want guys there causing our people harm. And that’s it. That’s it. Beyond that, we have no business. Frankly, we shouldn’t even care if they’re Muslims. We just want to be left alone and in peace and secure and free and not fighting forever for no particular reason by people who think that this war’s unwinnable. It’s crazy.

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