President Donald Trump announced a new approach – but no details – for the U.S. war in Afghanistan on Monday, marking a major policy reversal for the man who in recent years had insisted America pull out of the war-torn country.
Acknowledging that his “original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts,” Trump said in a prime-time address to the nation from Ft. Myer in Arlington, Virginia, that after becoming president he realized a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan would cede ground to terror groups.
“We are not nation-building again,” Trump said before an audience of service members. “We are killing terrorists.”
Of course, planning to go kill bad guys is an excellent strategy for a combat video game, but it’s not necessarily the basis for a sound policy for dealing with the longest war in American history.
Trump and his national security team have reportedly been hard at work for months on overhauling the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, and while the approach outlined last night is certainly new for Trump – he effectively told voters he’d pursue the opposite tack – it’s not new for the country.
The president, using language that was effectively identical to George W. Bush’s war rhetoric, presented a plan in which the war in Afghanistan will continue indefinitely, with undetermined troop levels, until we “win” – which is itself problematic, since Trump hasn’t explained what a victory would look like or how his latest strategy would achieve this goal.
Philip Carter, the former assistant secretary of Defense, told Rachel last night Trump’s speech was “opaque with respect to details, objectives, goals, and troop levels.” In other words, the president’s remarks lacked the most basic elements that are supposed to make up a national address on a new war strategy.
There was, however, one new thing that jumped out in the latter half of the speech:
“In this struggle, the heaviest burden will continue to be borne by the good people of Afghanistan and their courageous armed forces. As the prime minister of Afghanistan has promised, we are going to participate in economic development to help defray the cost of this war to us.”
That’s going to require some additional explanation from the White House. The president hopes to recoup some of the costs of the conflict … how exactly?