If Barack Obama had made the sorts of decisions about the war in Afghanistan, or the one in Iraq, that Donald Trump outlined tonight, we might already have achieved stability in both countries. Trump was right on target.
Trump was right to say that conditions on the ground, not arbitrary deadlines, should govern our tactics, strategies, and decisions on troop levels, diplomacy, economic aid, and military commitments writ large. Trump was right to say our allies should contribute more, and right to offer both carrots and sticks to Pakistan. He also made an interesting play for more economic support from India, while praising it highly (and correctly) as a key ally.
And, of utmost importance, Trump is putting less strictures on our rules of engagement, so our forces in the region and on the ground can react more swiftly and more appropriately to both threats and opportunities.
It sounds as if Trump is actually letting experienced military leaders use their good judgment to craft war-fighting strategies on both the macro and micro levels. Good for him. And good for him for listening to them even though he has been saying for at least six years that the United States should pull out completely from Afghanistan. He was right to say that the example of Iraq shows the disaster that can come from precipitous withdrawal without any clear idea of what will happen once we leave.
The policies outlined tonight are exactly of the sort that were hoped for by knowledgeable conservatives who backed Trump despite misgivings about his personal conduct and temperament. They are of the sort that some of us did not trust him to make. At least tonight, and at least on this one set of issues, he proved that those of us in the latter camp were mistaken. Tonight’s presentation ranks up there with the selection of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court as the high points of Trump’s first seven months in office. Thank goodness. And pray for our troops.