Trump’s Flip Flop on Afghanistan Betrays His Anti-Interventionist Constituency
I have spoken before about the unpredictability of Donald Trump as President of the United States. And though he was able to garner massive support from many unexpected corners of the country as a result of that campaign style, it was the main factor preventing me from joining the wave of support that eventually carried him to the White House. On paper his policies during the campaign were solid enough: defend the first and second amendments, crack down on illegal immigration, and, something personally vital to me, put an end to nearly two-decades of madhouse mistakes and tragedies that are the war in Afghanistan.
During the uncharacteristically eloquent introduction of his speech last Monday night, Trump acknowledged that the policies he was about to outline would go against his campaign promises. “Historically I like following my instincts,” he said. “But all my life I have heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.”
With politicians, it can be tricky to see past the diplomatic and duplicitous exterior and identify what they are actually trying to say. Trump is no exception to that rule, for all of his talk of being a fresh alternative to career politicians. It seems he was trying to say that he was more concerned with winning the election during the campaign, and not in showcasing his priorities or intentions. What his priorities and intentions truly are, I am sure I do not know.
Justifying such a drastic “flip-flop” in policy leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It would seem that all Trump needs to do is offer a cheap placate to patriotism, and a token salute to our armed forces, and his legions of supporters will go along with whatever change in policy he offers up. The Trump “product” as it were, involves putting America’s interests first, looking after our armed forces — to make it “great again,” as the slogan goes.
During the GOP primary debates, Donald Trump and Rand Paul were the only two candidates who supported withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. This means many Trump voters likely had him as a second choice, with Paul being their first. The two-party system unfortunately means that Paul was not a candidate in the general election, as all flavors and variations of conservatives and libertarians alike competed for the Republican party nomination.
Where Trump has not remained faithful to this conviction, Paul still has, stating on the same day as Trump’s announcement that “the mission in Afghanistan has lost its purpose” and that sending more troops would be a “terrible idea.”
Rand Paul’s father Ron issued a more in-depth response detailing what might have been the nation’s public policy had his son, or any libertarian, had a real chance at the presidency. Paul Sr. succinctly recapped the initial motivations for going to Afghanistan as retaliation against the 9/11 attacks, and then pointed out the astronomical amount of money and time wasted, and the unforgivably tragic loss of life in a conflict seemingly without end.
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“No one knows what the goals are,” Paul said in frustration with Trump’s preference for discussing “killing terrorists” instead of true objectives — and it’s a frustration and bewilderment I share.
The brilliant thing about such amorphous stated purposes as “killing terrorists” or “making America great again,” is that they are inherently vague. I have no idea what Trump’s motivation for remaining in Afghanistan is, but it’s impossible to believe after everything that has been invested in the war, that those motivations have much, if anything, to do with keeping the US safe from terrorism.