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Trump and Military Intervention

President Trump announcing a troop surge in Afghanistan (WhiteHouse.gov)

Trump has had a more hawkish foreign policy than the one he inherited:

Instead, Trump has sent more U.S. troops to conflict zones in the Middle East and South Asia. He’s dropped more bombs on Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. And he’s expanded a global campaign of targeted drone killings.

Add it all up, and it’s hard to see how Trump’s foreign policy is any less interventionist than his predecessors. If anything, Trump’s policies are a little more hawkish than those of Barack Obama, says Christopher Preble, with the CATO Institute.

“He’s largely continued what he’s inherited, with some additional increment of the use of force,” says Preble.

The important thing to remember about Trump’s views on military intervention is that they are opportunistic and they are not based in any consistent aversion to involvement in foreign conflicts. When it seemed that Obama would not intervene in Libya in 2011, Trump berated him for not doing more to stop the “carnage.” After Obama launched the Libyan intervention, Trump changed his tune and decided that it wasn’t such a great idea after all. He got a lot of attention for criticizing the Iraq war in the past, but when it came to talking about the wars that the U.S. was currently fighting he was never in favor of ending any of them. As I said right before the election, Trump never opposes wars when it matters, and he criticizes them only once they have become unpopular.

The article frames Trump’s escalations as a departure from his campaign positions, but that creates the impression that positions he took long before he was a candidate were the same as pledges made during the campaign. Trump is described a “regular critic” of the war in Afghanistan, but the main evidence for his opposition to the war dates back years before he announced his candidacy. In fact, Trump almost never mentioned Afghanistan while he was a candidate, and he certainly didn’t make ending U.S. involvement a major part of his campaign. It didn’t take much to persuade him to continue America’s longest war, because he had never been committed to bringing it to an end. Trump is a weak president, and escalation of ongoing wars is the path of least resistance in Washington, so that is what he has done. It would take genuine leadership and political courage to conclude our failed foreign wars, and Trump is lacking in both.

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about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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