President Donald Trump’s Afghanistan policy in a nutshell? Something old, nothing new, something borrowed, a big switcheroo.
From the flip-flopper in chief, in his own words (as compiled by the Democratic National Committee):
Bill O’Reilly: “You would withdraw U.S. troops out of Afghanistan?” Trump: “Yes I would.”
Trump: “I would get out quickly. It’s just — it’s never going to be good. It’s never going to be good.”
Trump: “It is time to get out of Afghanistan.”
Trump: “Let’s get with it. Get out of Afghanistan.”
Trump: “Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home!”
Trump: “It is time to get out and rebuild our own nation.”
Trump: “Get out now and re-build U.S.”
Trump: “I agree with Pres. Obama on Afghanistan. We should have a speedy withdrawal.”
Trump: “We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives.”
Trump: “We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. … Let’s get out!”
Comes now Trump’s Monday night Afghanistan backward handspring: “The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable. … A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al-Qaida, would instantly fill. … The security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense.”
Ta-da, the Trump policy: Stay in Afghanistan, up the ante with more troops, but if asked, don’t tell how many or for how long. And add a rhetorical flourish: “I’m a problem-solver. … We will win.”
Nothing new here, folks.
Trump even took a page out of former president Barack Obama’s playbook to debut his policy. Obama chose an assembly of West Point cadets in December 2009 to announce his escalation of the Afghanistan war effort. Trump stayed closer to home, using as a backdrop a military gathering at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia.
Trump’s message, however, stripped and unadorned, was just about the same as his predecessor’s.
Obama served up the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan as “the epicenter of violent extremism” and an enduring test for the United States. Trump, as did Obama before him, described the region in a similar way and adopted the Obama goal of denying al-Qaeda a haven, reversing the Taliban’s momentum and strengthening the capacity of Afghan security forces to defend and protect their own country.
Trump, as did Obama before him, heard the pleas of the rulers of Afghanistan: Just give us a little more time — along with your money and warm, well-armed American bodies — and one day down the road, we’ll be able to evolve into a corruption-free country with local chieftains and warlords joyfully helping us fend for ourselves — which we cannot now do. Obama fell for it. So has Trump.
Same old, same old.
So, Trump administration, let’s get on with it: Float more bonds to pay for that war. Make way for more lost American limbs, broken bodies and wounded minds. All in the name of Making America Great Again, and in hope of making Trump look good.
Colbert I. “Colby” King won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2003.