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Trump Outlines Afghanistan Strategy
What Trump Said President Donald Trump addressed the nation in a primetime speech on Monday, outlining his strategy in Afghanistan and the wider South Asia region.
Stating that "the American people are weary of war without victory," Trump promised "our troops will fight to win," declaring victory as: "attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge." Here's a summary of how Trump said he planned to achieve that victory:
The President said he had arrived at three conclusions about Afghanistan:
- "First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives," adding that "the men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory."
- "Second, the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable," pointing to the 9/11 attacks ("planned and directed from Afghanistan") as an example of what could happen if U.S. withdrawal creates a vacuum in the country's leadership that terrorists could fill. Trump said that the U.S. "hastily and mistakenly" withdrew from Iraq in 2011, which allowed ISIS to occupy cities previously liberated by U.S. soldiers. "We cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq," the President declared.
- "Third and finally, I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense," citing the 20 terrorist organizations active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a higher concentration than anywhere else on the globe. Trump said that he was "given a bad and very complex hand" when entering office, but called himself a "problem solver" prepared to "address the reality of the world as it exists right now."
With those conclusions in mind, President Trump announced a number of shifts in the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan South Asia:
- "A shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions": Trump announced an end to announcements telegraphing details of U.S. plans, saying that he would not "announce in advance the dates we intend to begin, or end, military options" or "talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities." The President explained that "conditions on the ground" would now be the guiding factor, instead of timetables set years in advance that terrorists are aware of and can wait out. "I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will," Trump said.
- "The integration of all instruments of American power — diplomatic, economic, and military — toward a successful outcome": Trump said that U.S. support for the Afghan government and military would continue, but "it is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future, to govern their society, and to achieve an everlasting peace." He continued, "We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists," promising that the U.S. would not "dictate to the Afghan people how to live, or how to govern their own complex society."
- President Trump criticized past Administrations for spending "too much time, energy, money, and most importantly lives, trying to rebuild countries in our own image, instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations." In contrast, he said, his Administration will "no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands, or try to rebuild other countries in our own image."
- Instead, he said, "Afghans will secure and build their own nation and define their own future." Trump added: "We are not asking others to change their way of life, but to pursue common goals that allow our children to live better and safer lives. This principled realism will guide our decisions moving forward."
- "To change the approach and how to deal with Pakistan": The President declared an end to silence about Pakistan's "safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond." Trump said payments to Pakistan while they house terrorists "will change immediately," calling on the country to "demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace."
- "To further develop its strategic partnership with India": Trump called on India to "help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development."
- "The necessary tools and rules of engagement [for U.S. soldiers] to make this strategy work, and work effectively and work quickly": Finally, addressing members of each military branch from Joint Base Myer–Henderson Hall near Arlington, Virginia, President Trump promised soldiers an expansion of their authority to target terrorists and make decisions on the ground. "Micromanagement from Washington, D.C. does not win battles," he said. "They are won in the field drawing upon the judgment and expertise of wartime commanders and frontline soldiers acting in real time, with real authority, and with a clear mission to defeat the enemy."
What That Means President Trump spoke for about 26 minutes on Monday, but didn't offer many specific details of how he would change the strategy of his predecessors. Some of Trump's "shifts," such as engagement in Pakistan," have been implemented by the United States for years. The most notable of the new strategies he outlined was probably the second — his signal to the world of an end to "nation-building" and a turn to "principled realism" in allowing others to chart the course of their own lives. House Speaker Paul Ryan labeled this policy "the Trump Doctrine" in a CNN town hall following the address.
In some cases, Trump's lack of detail was strategic: although he said the Afghanistan War (now nearing its 16th anniversary) would continue, the President's first "shift" was a promise not to announce exact troop levels as they change, which some Democrats have criticized as not being transparent. However, Trump is expected to bow to his generals' advice in sending more troops to Afghanistan, after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was given the authority in June to add as many as 3,900 additional boots on the ground to the 8,400 Americans currently stationed in Afghanistan.
And the fact that Trump listened to his generals and followed the traditional U.S. strategy was perhaps the most significant "shift" of all. Trump has a long history of criticizing U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and calling for troops to return home. On August 21, 2012 — exactly five years before hisprimetime address — Trump tweeted: "Why are we continuing to train these Afghanis who then shoot our soldiers in the back? Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home!" Other tweets from Trump on the subject include:
- January 11, 2013: "Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA."
- March 1, 2013: "We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives. If we have to go back in, we go in hard & quick. Rebuild the US first."
- November 21, 2013: "We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let's get out!"
Trump's commitment to remaining in Afghanistan is a reversal from his long-held beliefs — and he took the rare step of admitting it on Monday. "My original instinct was to pull out — and, historically, I like following my instincts," the President said. " But all my life I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office...So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle." Trump explained the long decision-making process he went through to arrive at a decision on Afghanistan, culminating in a Camp David meeting last Friday; speaking in a new way about the gravity of the office and the need to put his personal instincts second to the judgments of top generals.
The Response After a week of condemnations of Trump from many Republicans lawmakers, praise for the President's address was widespread inside the GOP:
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) statement: "I commend the President and his national security team for a thoughtful review of our engagement in the region."
- Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) statement: "I support the direction President Trump laid out tonight for the U.S. role in Afghanistan."
- Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R-AZ) statement: "I commend President Trump for taking a big step in the right direction with the new strategy for Afghanistan."
- House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in CNN town hall: "I'm pleased with the decision. I"m actually pleased with the way he went about making this decision."
- House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) statement: "I applaud the Trump Administration for refocusing our military efforts and supporting our brave warfighters by laying out a strategy that will help produce a more secure, stable, and sovereign Afghanistan."
Meanwhile, many Democratic lawmakers released statements hitting Trump for vagueness in his address:
- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) statement: "The President said he knew what he was getting into and had a plan to go forward. Clearly, he did not. The President's announcement is low on details but raises serious questions."
- Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed (D-RI) statement: "Unfortunately, the President's speech tonight was short on the details our troops and the American people deserve."
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) statement: "I found the President's speech tonight terribly lacking. Lacking in details, lacking in substance and lacking in a vision of what success in Afghanistan looks like."
And some Republicans joined in the criticism of the speech as well:
- Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) statement: "The time has come, however, for us...to bring our troops back home without reigniting civil war in that country...America cannot afford to make an open-ended commitment of further lives."
- Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) tweet: "There's nothing hasty about ending America's longest war. @POTUS bowed to military-industrial establishment; doubled down on perpetual war."
- Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) op-ed in The Hill: "The Trump administration is increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan and, by doing so, keeping us involved even longer in a 16-year-old war that has long since gone past its time."
Mainly, Trump's speech was a rejection of his former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who advised withdrawing from Afghanistan and tapping a private contractor to take over the war. Breitbart News, where Bannon is now executive chairman, ran a number of critical headlines:
- "Trump Reverses Course, Will Send More Troops to Afghanistan. Defends Flip-Flop in Somber Speech. 'Unlimited War.'"
- "Trump's 'America First" Base Unhappy With Flip-Flop Afghanistan Speech"
- "His McMaster's Voice: Is Trump's Afghanistan Policy That Different From Obama's"
The President's Schedule: Trump to Arizona
At 10:30am*, President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing in the Oval Office. At 11:45am, he will depart the White House for Yuma, Arizona, arriving at 1:45pm**.
At 2:05pm, Trump will travel to the U.S.-Mexico border, taking a tour of U.S. Customs and Border Protection equipment. At 2:50pm, he will participate in a meet and greet with Marines at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. Trump's visit comes ahead of a showdown next month in which the White House is hoping to force funding for the President's proposed border wall into the new funding bill.
McClatchy reported Tuesday that White House chief of staff John Kelly, as well as Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, are urging the President to accept a deal to "protect young people brought into the country illegally as children " in exchange for "legislation that pays for a border wall and more detention facilities, curbs legal immigration and implements E-verify, an online system that allows businesses to check immigration status."
At3:10pm, the President will depart Yuma for Phoenix, Arizona, where he will arrive at 4pm. At 7pm, Trump will hold his 8th "Make America Great Again" campaign rally since taking office, at the Phoenix Convention Center. After the President stayed on-message in his Monday address, the rally will likely provide an opportunity for him to return to his looser, campaign-style rhetoric.
Trump told Fox News last week that he was "seriously considering" a pardon for former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, a controversial figure found guilty last month of failing to comply with a court order to halt practices seen as racially profiling Latinos. Speculation is rampant that Trump will announce plans to pardon Arpaio at his Phoenix rally, a prospect that worries some of his advisers, according to the New York Times, who fear he will re-open racial wounds from his comments on Charlottesville's last week.
The Washington Post reported that Republican leaders are worried that Trump will insert himself into Arizona's Senate primary, where Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a leading Trump critic, is facing off against the President's favored candidate Kelli Ward. "Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate," Trump tweeted last week. "He's toxic!" The President is expected to criticize Flake, who has wide support among his GOP colleagues, and potentially even endorse Ward.
And Washington officials aren't the only ones on edge about the rally: Phoenix officials are worried that the event will spark protests and tensions in the city, with Mayor Greg Stanton (D) going so far as to request that the rally be postponed out of fear that it will "enflame emotions."
Today in Congress
Both houses of Congress are out of town until September 5, exactly two weeks away, when they will return to a long to-do list including funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. The Senate is not technically on recess, to ensure the President cannot install any recess appointees and is holding pro forma sessions (meetings with no business conducted) every three days. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) gaveled in today's pro forma session at 7am.
"The Secret Service can no longer pay hundreds of agents it needs to carry out an expanded protective mission – in large part due to the sheer size of President Trump's family and efforts necessary to secure their multiple residences up and down the East Coast. Secret Service Director Randolph 'Tex' Alles, in an interview with USA TODAY, said more than 1,000 agents have already hit the federally mandated caps for salary and overtime allowances that were meant to last the entire year."..
"Agents must protect Trump – who has traveled almost every weekend to his properties in Florida, NewJersey and Virginia – and his adult children whose business trips and vacations have taken them across the country and overseas. 'The president has a large family, and our responsibility is required in law,' Alles said. 'I can't change that. I have no flexibility.' Alles said the service is grappling with an unprecedented number of White House protectees. Under Trump, 42 people have protection, a number that includes 18 members of his family. That's up from 31 during the Obama administration."...
"The compensation crunch is so serious that the director has begun discussions with key lawmakers to raise the combined salary and overtime cap for agents, from $160,000 per year to $187,000 for at least the duration of Trump's first term. But even if such a proposal was approved, about 130 veteran agents would not be fully compensated for hundreds of hours already amassed, according to the agency."
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