Trump says lots of dumb things—often factually incorrect things—on a daily basis. But the media and his opponents (but I repeat myself) go out of their way willfully to misunderstand his meaning, which is often more sound.
Such was the case today when everyone seized upon Trump saying that Russia was right to invade Afghanistan in 1979 because terrorists were coming over the border. This is idiotically wrong. But if you read or listen to Trump’s whole statement, you can see that he is onto a much bigger and more sensible point:
“Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. Russia. … The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt; they went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer part of Russia, because of Afghanistan.”
The facts about why the Soviets invaded Afghanistan aside, Trump’s real point here is not as incoherent as it sounds. Trump is noting that Russia’s extended involvement in Afghanistan was a disaster that contributed to the undoing of the Soviet Union. (In fact, it was part of Reagan’s strategy in the late 1980s, even after Gorbachev wanted to get out of Afghanistan, to make it difficult and costly for the Soviets to bug out, as means of keeping pressure on the USSR. I imagine Iran and Russia are today delighted we are tied down there too.) I think Trump is trying to say that our extended involvement in Afghanistan is also detrimental to the U.S. We’re not going to go bankrupt from our Afghan operation, but after 17 years there, it is not wrong to think that it has gone on quite long enough.
Trump went on to say that Pakistan ought to be fighting in Afghanistan in place of our troops. Great idea, except that Pakistan is already fighting in Afghanistan, but mostly on the wrong side (the Taliban). Trump may be making a mistake withdrawing our effective, low-footprint presence in Syria, and perhaps he should be demanding a plan for our withdrawal from Afghanistan instead—as John called for here on Power Line five years ago, I think. Once again, to borrow Salena Zito’s great phrase, Trump’s critics are taking him literally instead of seriously.
P.S. I refer readers to my 2012 post here about Winston Churchill’s caution about the futility of trying to subdue Afghanistan in his very first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force. Trump may understand instinctively what Churchill perceived from his experience in the field.