Trump Finally Changed His Mind on Something and It’s Neverending War

In a primetime address, the President made the vague promise to shift Afghanistan strategy from a “time-based approach to one based on conditions.”

Mark Wilson/Zuma

During a primetime address to the nation this evening from Fort Myer military base in Virginia, President Trump finally offered his long-awaited strategic plan for the war in Afghanistan. 

The speech was short on specifics, but took time to repudiate the actions of his predecessor: “We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.”

“No one denies that we have inherited a challenging and troubling situation in Afghanistan and South Asia, but we do not have the luxury of going back in time and making different or better decisions,” President Trump said. “When I became president, I was given a bad and very complex hand, but I fully knew what I was getting into. But one way or another, these problems will be solved. I am a problem solver.”

Trump laid out a handful of “pillars” on which the new strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia is based. First, America will no longer publicly announce military operations, troop levels, or timetables for withdrawal.

“I’ve said it many times, how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin or end military operations,” he explained. “We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.”

Additionally, the strategy will seek the “integration of all instruments of American power, diplomatic, economic, and military, toward a successful outcome,” as well as change how the U.S. deals with Pakistan and “further develop its strategic partnership with India.” Finally, the president claimed, he will ensure the military has “the necessary tools and rules of engagement to make this strategy work and work effectively and work quickly.”

“I have already lifted restrictions the previous administration placed on our war fighters that prevented the secretary of defense and our commanders in the field from fully and swiftly waging battle against the enemy,” Trump said. “Micromanagement from Washington, D.C., does not win battles.”

This speech comes close on the heels of Trump’s controversial comments on the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a rally led by white nationalists left one woman dead and at least 34 injured . The president opened his remarks without mentioning the events explicitly, but denouncing hate and stressing loyalty and love:

“[W]hen one citizen suffers an injustice, we all suffer together. Loyalty to our nation demands loyalty to one another. Love for America requires love for all of its people. When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate. The young men and women we sent to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home. We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other.”

The announcement tonight marks the end of months of review and debate over the approach to America’s longest war. The Pentagon had been advocating for a rise in troop levels, while other options on the table reportedly included  contracting military personnel to take over operations—a recommendation supported by recently removed chief strategist Steve Bannon. 

Monday evening was Trump’s first nationally televised primetime speech since he spoke to Congress in January. Watch the whole thing here:

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.