President Trump on Monday announced he will not pull out U.S. troops from Afghanistan, as he is committed to a new strategy aimed at winning the nation’s longest war.
During a prime-time address to the nation, Trump declared a rapid exit from the war-torn nation would leave a major power vacuum that would create a new safe haven for terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The president acknowledged his “original instinct was to pull out,” a reference to his long-held view and campaign promise. Trump admitted that the calculation is different “when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.” Well, he was mentally present during at least one intelligence briefing on the matter, we have to give him that. Although, winning the war and building the peace are two different things, and it is the peace building process that Afghanistan is lacking.
Overall, it was a “very Trump” speech, as he declined to provide specifics or anything resembling a plan; showed he was pro-war, not peace; and blamed previous administrations. “When I became president I was given a bad and very complex hand,” Trump asserted. “No one denies that we have inherited a challenging and troubling situation in Afghanistan and South Asia, but we do not have the luxury of going back in time and making different or better decisions.” (Oh, I am sure quite a few people would love to go back to 8 November 2016 and make better decisions).
“The American people are weary of war without victory. I share the American people’s frustration,” Trump said, adding that, “in the end, we will fight and we will win.” Good luck! How will that look like, a total eradication of al Qaeda?
While the president is widely expected to send roughly 4,000 additional U.S. troops to the country, a recommendation made by the Pentagon, Trump declined to say how many troops he would send or reveal a firm timeline for how long they would serve there. There are roughly 8,400 American service members currently in Afghanistan. Most troops train and advise the Afghan military, but roughly 2,000 participate in counterterrorism missions. “We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plan for further military activities,” Trump said. “Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy for now on. … I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.” Presidential Speechmaking 101: avoid facts in your promises, as they might stick and be held against you.
Unlike past administrations, the president said he does not seek to encourage Afghanistan to adopt Western-style democracy and institutions — just to ensure it does not become a refuge for extremist groups. No surprise here, coming from someone who mightily dislikes free press, women rights, gay rights, and pretty much approves of Neo-Nazis (think of his assertion that “very fine people” were on both sides of the clashes between white supremacists and protestors in Charlottesville, Va.). Do not get me wrong, I am not advocating for Western-style democracy in countries that have no history of democracy. I am 100% for equality and education everywhere in the world, though.
Senator John McCain, who has spent months bashing President Trump for delaying a new Afghanistan strategy, commended him for “taking a big step in the right direction with the new strategy for Afghanistan.” Have you noticed that Trump always gets commended by one or two of his numerous critics on those rare occasions when he manages to stick to the prepared speech?
Contrary to McCain, Senator Jack Reed, ranking Democrat on the Armed Services panel, called the plan “very vague” and said it was “short on the details our troops and the American people deserve.”
Some people dared to say that Trump’s presidency is becoming ordinary (clearly, not Twitter users).
“Trump still has every opportunity to turn around his presidency,” said Alex Conant, a GOP strategist. “Look, a lot of presidents have rough first years and go on to be very successful, and there is no reason Trump can’t do that.” Although even Conant’s optimistic outlook has its limits with regard to the president’s impetuous ways. “Trump will continue to follow his instincts, which will continue to lead him into trouble,” he said.
During a town hall with CNN in Racine, Wisconsin, House Speaker Paul Ryan said he wishes President Trump would tweet less, noting there are posts on Twitter he would prefer not to see from the commander-in-chief. “Do I wish there would be a little less tweeting? Of course, I do. But I think, I don’t think that that’s going to change.” I think he thinks right, even though he has a very roundabout way of expressing his thoughts.