For quite a while, Donald Trump was consistent about his views on U.S. policy in Syria. He insisted, over and over again, that he saw military intervention in Syria as a terrible mistake. “We should stay the hell out of Syria,” he declared at one point. “I would not go into Syria,” Trump later added.
A few months after taking office, however, the Republican president did pretty much the opposite, launching a missile strike against a Syrian airbase controlled by the Assad regime.
Similarly, Trump has been consistent in criticizing U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, which sets the stage for the president’s speech tonight in Virginia, where he’ll “provide an update on the path forward for America’s engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia,” which seems likely to include increased deployments – the result of a months-long White House review.
The review, which was led by National Security Adviser Lt. Gen H.R. McMaster, looked at whether several thousand more troops should be deployed to the country, U.S. defense officials told NBC News last month.
The troops would be assigned to counter-terrorism and NATO training missions, the officials said, and would expand the American military’s current footprint of roughly 8,400 troops.
We’ll have to wait for additional details before assessing the White House’s new “path forward” in Afghanistan, but if the reporting today is accurate, and the president intends to increase troop levels, it will be pretty much the opposite of what voters were led to believe was Trump’s position.
Remember, Trump’s been sharing his thoughts on U.S. policy in Afghanistan for quite a while. Nearly six years ago, he called on policymakers to “stop wasting our money” on investments in Afghanistan. In early 2012, Trump added, “It is time to get out of Afghanistan.”
He never really fluctuated from this position. In January 2013, Trump said, “Let’s get out of Afghanistan.” A few days later, he endorsed “a speedy withdrawal” from the country. In March 2013, Trump said he wanted to leave Afghanistan “immediately,” adding, “No more wasted lives.”
By December 2015, when he was the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump went so far as to suggest U.S. troops in Afghanistan were “being led to slaughter.”
I suppose it’s possible the president will surprise everyone tonight and announce he’s not increasing troop levels, but if the reports are accurate, Trump is going to further embarrass everyone who told the public last year he’d be a “dove” on national security matters if elected.
To be sure, there’s reason to question just how much Trump understands about the policy he’s poised to change. More than once, he’s called people from Afghanistan “Afghanis” – confusing the country’s currency with its population – and White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster reportedly struggled to keep the president’s attention while trying to get Trump to focus on the future of U.S. policy in the country.
But he’s nevertheless going to unveil a new “path forward” tonight, risking another round of disappointment among those who believed his pre-election posturing.