About a month before Election Day 2020, Donald Trump announced via Twitter that he intended to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan “by Christmas.” No one had any idea what he was talking about: White House officials conceded the then-president’s timeline wasn’t real and the Pentagon said it had no idea what Trump was talking about.
By all appearances, the Republican, realizing that he was losing his re-election campaign, was searching in vain for an issue that might give him a boost. Trump apparently figured that ending a war and brining troops home would be well received, so he told the public that he was poised to do exactly that — reality be damned.
The strange claims seemed all the more unusual when, about a year later, after his successor really did end the U.S. war in Afghanistan, Trump raised the prospect of a redeployment. In a written statement, the former president said that if the Taliban didn’t return equipment left behind in Afghanistan, the United States should consider going back in “with unequivocal Military force.”
Around the same time, Trump headlined a rally and told attendees, in reference to Afghanistan, “You know what, we have to go in and we should go in when it’s right and we now may have to be forced to go in.... We may be forced to go in, and we may not be forced, but we may be forced to go in.”
That wasn’t exactly elucidating, but this past weekend, Trump once again returned to the subject at his most recent rally:
“You have many citizens that the Taliban is holding. They didn’t get enough with the $85 billion. Maybe we ought to go in and take it back.”
This, oddly enough, generated applause from attendees, as if there’s a political appetite for putting boots on the ground in Afghanistan — again.
Even for the former president, this is bizarre. Circling back to our earlier coverage, it’s probably fair to say Trump has been a “big thinker” when it comes to international affairs, but he’s been relatively consistent in his eagerness to end U.S. military deployments, especially in the Middle East. Evidently, he’s changed his mind?
As for the “$85 billion,” the Republican is apparently referring to equipment left behind in the wake of our withdrawal, but as the former president really ought to know, the idea that the Taliban has $85 billion in equipment isn’t true.
There’s also the inconvenient detail that the Taliban cannot actually use much of the equipment it’s now obtained.
But even more important is Trump’s idea — which he’s now repeated on several occasions — that it’d be smart to send U.S. troops back into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
To be sure, there is still no reason to believe such a scenario is likely to happen in reality. Biden has ended the war and withdrawn U.S. troops, and the odds of the administration deciding to redeploy forces, simply to reclaim equipment the Taliban can’t use, are zero.
This doesn’t change the fact, however, that Trump — among other things, a possible presidential contender in 2024 — has spent years saying he wanted to get out of Afghanistan, only to suggest going back in now that Biden has ended the war.
I am curious, though, just how many Republican officials would agree with such a proposal. Are GOP members of Congress on board with the idea of sending U.S. troops back into Afghanistan? Or would they concede that Trump's rhetoric is absurd?