3 Things to Expect from Trump's Afghanistan Address Tonight

Surge, strategy, status quo


White House

President Donald Trump is expected to announce a surge of "several thousand" troops to Afghanistan in a speech he will deliver to the nation from Fort Meyers at 9:00 ET tonight.

Despite Trump's wildcard tendencies, the contents of tonight's address should be fairly predictable. Whatever anti-establishment foreign policy rhetoric Trump may have deployed during the campaign, his administration appears to have coalesced into a fairly establishment-minded group, particularly on foreign policy. Here are three things we can expect to hear about in tonight's address:

1. The Surge Itself

Ultimately, the decision on Afghanistan is a binary one: Either the U.S. stays, or it goes. Surging means staying.

In 2013 Trump lambasted America's "stupid leaders" for signing a deal to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan until 2024, adding that the U.S. had "wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan" and got "zero appreciation" from the Afghan government. Such rhetoric has been missing more recently. The conflict barely got mentioned during the 2016 presidential campaign, and for the most part it has receded from the public consciousness.

President Barack Obama announced a troop surge of his own in a December 2009 address, bemoaning an Afghan government "hampered by corruption, the drug trade, an under-developed economy, and insufficient security forces." Trump may say something similar.

Eight years after the Obama troop surge, there's nothing positive to show for it in Afghanistan. That surge, like the one Trump is expected to announce, simply prolonged our presence in the country.

Trump has already authorized the Pentagon to send an additional 3,900 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, so tonight's announcement will probably stay within that limit. There are currently about 8,000 U.S. troops in the country.

2. Pakistan and other regional partners

The administration is mulling several possible ways to pressure Pakistan. According to CBS News, these include "reducing aid, taking away its status as a non-NATO ally, and threatening to name Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism."

Terror groups like the so-called Haqqani network operate out of Pakistan, and in 2011 the U.S. found and killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in a posh Pakistan neighborhood.

The Russians, who seem to have cut and run on any possibility of converting any pro-Russian sentiments Trump expressed on the 2016 campaign trail into improved U.S.-Russian relations, have signaled that Washington should withdraw from Afghanistan if it's "unable to do anything serious." Nevertheless, instability in Afghanistan poses a security concern for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Russia's response to a post–Cold War NATO, and it would be worthwhile to try to engage Russia, as well as China, on what complete withdrawal from Afghanistan will look like.

A negotiated withdrawal involving the Afghan government and the Taliban would probably work best if it included Pakistan as well as other regional powers, who ought to be more vested in a stable future for Afghanistan than the U.S. is. Tonight's address would be a good place to articulate that, though Trump is more likely to scapegoat Pakistan than to sketch out any new efforts at regional cooperation.

3. Blaming Obama

Whether or not Trump mentions his predecessor by name, he's probably going to lay most of the blame for the mess in Afghanistan on Obama's doorstep. He may also, as he was wont to do before becoming an elected Republican official, criticize George W. Bush for allowing the conflict to fester for its first seven years instead of bringing it to a close after obliterating the core of Al Qaeda and removing the Taliban from power.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), has blamed a lack of "strategic guidance" across presidential administrations for years of failures in Afghanistan. But for years now there has been a lot of ambiguity about why the U.S. remains in Afghanistan in the first pace. That ambiguity isn't resolved during presidential campaigns, and it isn't resolved in the addresses new presidents give to the nation about the war's purported progress.

Trump will likely continue the tradition of blaming his predecessor for Afghanistan. But without interrogating why the U.S. has stayed in Afghanistan for so long, that's a useless exercise.

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  1. Are we even technically at war with… somebody over there? We have kept way more troops than that embedded in countries all over the world for decades. What’s another Germany or South Korea?

    1. The difference is we are actively killing and being killed in Afganistan.

      1. I am neither killing nor being killed in Afghanistan. My secret? Not being there in the first place.

        1. That contract you signed at birth says otherwise.

        2. Rhywun: Are we even technically at war with….

          My Dog Bites Better Than Yours: The difference is we are actively killing and being killed….

          Is this is a good chance for these two individuals to describe who they mean by “we”?

          1. I am talking about the United States.

            1. “We” being the good citizens of these United States. Of which, like it or not, most of us are members.

          2. I would never belong to any collective that would accept me as a member.

  2. – Re alt text: If McConaughey was president our country would be a lot groovier.

    – Re surge: Score one for the generals and the GOP – they can unite!

    – Re surge: Every time the word “surge” is used, I think of this.(It puts a positive spin on pointless wars).

    – Re the above link: Jenny Summers was an 80s fox.

    1. Other underappreciated 80s foxes: Sloane from Ferris Bueller, , the blonde from Police Academy, the cigarette-smoking kiddie-rapist from Big, Terry Doolittle from Jumping Jack Flash, and Joyce Hyser.

      1. Kiddie Rapists always get the short end of the stick in Top Fox lists.

        1. I hear Mary Kay Letorneau is single again.

      2. Charlotte Lewis from The Golden Child

  3. “Whatever anti-establishment foreign policy rhetoric Trump may have deployed during the campaign, his administration appears to have coalesced into a fairly establishment-minded group, particularly on foreign policy.”

    Frankly he was moving in a more non-interventionist direction until recently. He ended the CIA funding for Syrian opposition groups and he first rebuffed his generals who wanted the surge in Afghanistan (as Reason even wrote an article about).

    Now he’s moved away from his populist tendencies to a more conventional Republican (and let’s face it Democratic) foreign policy. The most depressing part is that his critics praise him when he acts hawkishly.

    1. I wonder how much of this comes from the fact that his only bipartisan victory was the Syria action?

  4. Can we just tell Trump that he already did a surge and it was tremendous, greatest surge ever. And skip to the part where he stands in front of banner and declares mission accomplished and brings all the troops home. Seems like that would be quicker with the same outcome minus American lives and treasure.

  5. I am all Afghanistaned out.

    1. Rub some dirt on it and get back in there, son.

  6. Blaming his predecessor for fucking up Afghanistan might be Trump’s most presidential move yet.

  7. Substitute # 3 for Blames Bush and you got the same talking points as Obama.

  8. There is plenty of blame to go around, 44 can have some too.

    Related, ‘War Machine’ on Netflix is a pretty good send up of the whole situation. I recommend it and if you have ever spent anytime around Flag Officers, they got it pretty spot on.

    1. I thought it was good.

      Also, the Anthony Michael-Hall character is supposedly based on Michael Flynn, which makes all of his scenes that much more enjoyable.

      1. Nice, did Flynn work for McCrystal? (who is more or less the basis for PItt’s character)

  9. I’m certain we will also hear some b.s. excuse about “we got to kill them over there before they come to kill us here.” Absent this kind of scare tactic, I’d guess about 90% of Americans would say, “Let’s get the fug out of there.”

    1. I’m certain we will also hear some b.s. excuse about “we got to kill them over there before they come to kill us here.”

      Which is especially ironic, given that most Afghans have no idea who “we” are or where “we” came from, and really don’t care.

      1. “Hey, we’re here scraping out a subsistence level existence, but we’ll take time out to travel half-way around the world…”

  10. Orange fat man reads stuff on a teleprompter without the slightest clue what any of it means?

    1. Slim brown man did the same thing. With, uh, erm, uh, uh, uh, feeling.

      Confused pale man did it before him. He transmogrified the speechifying, though.

  11. Fuck fuck fuck no no no no. No.

    Fuck Shitholistan and every goat-fucking stone age peasant there. They want to live in shacks without plumbing or electricity. They like it. Shitholistan is hopeless. The end state should have been dead AQ and Taliban gone, and us the fuck out of there.

    JFC. What’s it gonna take to get us out of there? Drafting Millennials? Drafting the generation after Millennials? Nobody cares about this war. Every Trumptard I know gets glassy eyed and blank when I mention Shitholistan. Everybody’s forgotten we’re even over there, wasting money and lives. For nothing.

  12. But for years now there has been a lot of ambiguity about why the U.S. remains in Afghanistan in the first pace.

    The only potentially interesting part of the speech would be any justification for our perpetual war in Afghanistan.

    They could fess up and say “We plan on perpetual war in Afghanistan to prevent safe havens for Islamic terrorists”. Or “We plan on nation building in Afghanistan, and will only leave when it can control it’s own territory and keep it free from terrorists that threaten the West. 50 years minimum.”

  13. KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is eyeing Afghanistan’s mineral wealth to help pay for a 16-year war and reconstruction efforts that have already cost $117 billion. Investors who have studied the country, one of the world’s most dangerous, say that is a pipe dream.

    Ever since a United States Geological Survey study a decade ago identified deposits later estimated to have a potential value of as much as $1 trillion, both Afghan and foreign officials have trumpeted the reserves as a likely key to economic independence for Afghanistan.

    As well as deposits of gold, silver and platinum, Afghanistan has significant quantities of iron ore, uranium, zinc, tantalum, bauxite, coal, natural gas and significant copper – a particular draw given the dearth of rich new copper mines globally.

    Afghanistan, some reports say, even has the potential to become “the Saudi Arabia of lithium”, thanks to deposits of the raw material used in phone and electric car batteries.


  14. No, the decision really isn’t binary. The intensity dial has many, many levels. As can be seen when we look at the average rate of US fatalities per month of combat operations in Afghanistan, by Presidential term:

    Bush 1st: 4.0 (160 total, 40 months [Oct 2001-Jan 2005])
    Bush 2nd: 17.6 (847 total, 48 months [Feb 2005-Jan 2009])
    Obama 1st: 44.9 (2,155 total, 48 months [Feb 2009-Jan 2013]).
    Obama 2nd: 5.5 (263 total, 48 months [Feb 2013-Jan 2017]).
    Trump 1st: 1.6 (11 total, 7 months [Feb 2017-Aug 2017]).

    Raw data from .

    While 1.6/month might not be ideal, it’s a hell of a lot closer to zero than it is to 5.5/month, never mind the body count Obama racked up in his first term.

  15. No matter who our country elects, we still get John McCain

  16. Some Brit once said something like – It’s very easy to get into Afghanistan. Almost impossible to win and get out.

    150 years later we’ve learned exactly nothing and are even more clueless about our goal and have no one who can tell their ass from their elbow about the region. And we are opposed by every single one of Afghanistans neighbors – none of whom have good intentions towards Afghanistan either.

    What could possibly go wrong.

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