Last night, Donald Trump became the third consecutive U.S. president to commit to a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. He did not do so willingly; indeed, like President George W. Bush, Donald Trump had campaigned explicitly on the idea of abandoning nation-building campaigns like those conducted by his predecessor. But there are only three options when your enemy chooses to fight you as an insurgent: quit, conduct a scorched-earth campaign that kills everyone and destroys everything, or commit to counterinsurgency.
We cannot afford to quit. In the best two lines of his speech, President Trump laid out U.S. interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as is possible: “We must stop the resurgence of safe havens that enable terrorists to threaten America. And we must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us or anywhere in the world.”
Leaving Afghanistan would quickly result in the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, and the resumption of a safe haven for terror in Afghanistan, which cost us dearly on September 11, 2001. The United States cannot follow the Roman method of making a desert and calling it peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And so Trump, like Bush and Obama before him, chose a counterinsurgency strategy, not as his first choice, but as the least bad option available.