The Corner

National Security & Defense

The Afghanistan Speech

I thought it was quite good. A few points:

— The passage at the beginning showed the unifying potential of Trump’s nationalism, although obviously he’s made it a much harder sell by how he’s conducted himself, especially with his misadventures last week.

— It’s hard not to seem presidential when giving a speech like this. If Trump had done nothing but give Teleprompter speeches since his inauguration, he’d be about ten points higher in the polls.

— I think Trump gets points for acknowledging how hard this decision was for him and how it cut against his instincts (he’s, of course, extensively on the record over the years saying that the war is a mistake and that we should pull out).

— The rejection of a timeline in favor of conditions is a welcome change from Obama’s approach.

— It seems a pretty conventionally hawkish policy tailored to Trump’s predilections. He said we’re not nation-building and mentioned the very Jacksonian word “retribution.” On the nation-building piece, no one likes nation-building, but if we are waging a war where the performance of the indigenous government and military matters to us, we are inevitably going to engage in nation-building (although it doesn’t have to be on the scale of what we attempted in Iraq).

— Pressure on Pakistan is a major element of the new strategy. We’ll see what comes of that. It seems to me that pressuring Pakistan to be more responsible in Afghanistan is the equivalent of pressuring China to force North Korea to be more responsible: Every administration wants to find a way to do it, but no one ever does. The warm words about India surely got the attention of Islamabad, though.

— At the end of the day, this is Trump concluding that he doesn’t want to lose a war on his watch, and if that means jettisoning some of his presuppositions, he’s willing to do it. If only President Obama had handled the question of whether or not to pull out of Iraq the same way.

 

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