Donald Trump campaigned on ending the war in Afghanistan, calling it “a complete waste” and advocating walking away from it. I’d been arraying the possibility around 60 percent that, as president, he’d write off Afghanistan entirely. So it’s very much to his credit that he let himself be persuaded to embrace a policy diametrically opposed to his campaign rhetoric.
And it’s important that he took responsibility for the strategy by explaining himself to the American people on Monday night. It was powerful that he explained his initial opposition, and took Americans on the journey of his changing views, saying he understood their frustration but had come to the conclusion that “the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.” The speech showed that President Trump has accepted that, while there may be no good options for dealing with Afghanistan, there are better and worse options, and his instinct had been to select an option that would leave our country less safe.
In his address laying out his plan for the war in Afghanistan, President Trump did the right thing. He recognized the continuing threats to the United States emanating from Afghanistan, and he committed his administration to continue partnering with the government of Afghanistan until its police and military have the ability to handle the problem. The strategy he announced narrows the war effort somewhat to more of a counter-terrorism fight and away from the more expansive aims of counterinsurgency by committing to an outcome rather than a timeline, aspiring to a more integrated politico-economic-military approach, and outlining the regional political needs for the strategy’s success.