Trump announced last night that the U.S. would be escalating the war in Afghanistan once again:
Trump’s reversal stands out not just for the outright vehemence with which he previously argued that America needed to put an end to its 16-year-long war—Trump has called for total US withdrawal from Afghanistan and for handing the country over to an army of mercenaries—but also because of what it says about his foreign policy at large. In the seven months since taking office, Trump has expanded military operations in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and, now, Afghanistan. And that’s in addition to an escalated nuclear standoff with North Korea.
It is worth remembering that Trump never campaigned on ending the war in Afghanistan, and he didn’t talk about the war during his entire candidacy. Indeed, both presidential candidates managed to avoid mentioning the war in Afghanistan during their debates, and neither of them was ever forced to explain what U.S. policy would be after the election. This was a media failure to put the candidates’ views under scrutiny, but it was also an abdication by the candidates to outline their plans for the country’s longest war. Both candidates had strong incentives to say nothing, because no one wanted to be reminded that the U.S. was fighting a desultory war for more than a decade and neither of them had the first clue what to do about it.
If Trump is embracing a default interventionist position now, it is because he has no firm principles and never opposes foreign wars when it matters in any case. He didn’t run against any of our ongoing wars, but took easy, self-serving positions against previous wars that he had supported in the past. His overall foreign policy record in office shows that he prefers military action and threats to other courses of action, so it can’t have been that hard to talk him into another pointless troop increase. Escalating in Afghanistan is undoubtedly the wrong decision, and the U.S. will be trapped in fighting a war it won’t win for years to come because of it, but such is the sad and warped state of our foreign policy debate that Trump’s escalation will be greeted with applause across much of Washington.