The conflict in Afghanistan played a surprisingly small role in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, possibly because none of the candidates had any new ideas on what to do about this long-festering problem. But there is an old aphorism sometimes attributed to Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary and communist theorist, that goes, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
While Trotsky probably never uttered the phrase, there is something to it. It certainly applies to the conflict in Afghanistan: While the war was not a major topic in Donald Trump’s successful presidential bid, he now must wrestle with it.
So far Trump has approached Afghanistan using the broad themes of his campaign. During a video chat with U.S. troops there, for instance, he said, “Keep fighting. We’re going to win. We’re going to win.” What that means, though, is not clear, at least so long as U.S. strategy in Afghanistan reflects the same assumptions that have shaped it for the past 15 years.