They represent a total reversal of earlier statements condemning America's longest war for its utter lack of effectiveness and unconscionable loss of life and gigantic waste of money. To date, over 2,400 U.S. military have died in the war in Afghanistan and estimates of the cost run between $840 billion and $2 trillion.
"Let's get with it," Citizen Trump said in 2012 at a video blog he used to promote The Apprentice. "Get out of Afghanistan. We've wasted billions and billions of dollars and, more important, thousands and thousands of lives—not to mention all of these young men and women who come home and they really have problems."
Whether you agree with Antiwar.com's Eric Garris (who dug up the video above) that "the War Party got to him" once he became president or believe that he was never really a non-interventionist, the switch in positions is stunning. Here's a 2013 tweet:
Do not allow our very stupid leaders to sign a deal that keeps us in Afghanistan through 2024-with all costs by U.S.A. MAKE AMERICA GREAT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2013
In October 2015, he declared that occupying Afghanistan was a "terrible mistake" but he took it all back last night, saying
My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts. But all my life, I have heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. In other words, when you are president of the United States….the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists. A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11. And as we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq.
While Trump explicitly ruled out "nation building," it's unclear what sort of strategy follows from his adamant refusal to beat a "rapid exit" or "hasty withdrawal." Indeed, he seems to be laying the groundwork for a permanent presence. As troubling as that is his characterization of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, which was negotiated by George W. Bush and implemented by the Obama administration only after attempts to extend our military presence were rebuffed by the Iraqi government we helped install. The collapse of Iraq after the U.S. exit is a sure sign that the war effort there was a fool's errand, not an argument for our staying there longer.
The president did not lay out any clear markers or guideposts that might conceivable trigger the removal of American troops from Afghanistan. Rather, he stressed an ongoing need for the U.S. military to "stop the resurgence of safe havens" for terrorists everywhere in the world and the need to keep terrorists from obtaining nuclear weapons. Both of those goals suggest not just a permanent presence in Afghanistan but elsewhere throughout the world.
Trump also dished up a familiar mix of self-pity, humblebragging, and good, old-fashioned bullshit to explain (sort of) his strategy in Afghanistan:
I was given a bad and very complex hand, but I fully knew what I was getting into. Big and intricate problems. But one way or another, these problems will be solved. I am a problem solver. And in the end, we will win. We must address the reality of the world as it exists right now, the threats we face, and the confronting of all of the problems of today, an extremely predictable consequences of a hasty withdrawal….
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. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.
Go here for full text and video of Trump's remarks. Reading through the speech, it's hard not to conclude, as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) did in a statement, that the president "knows this war is over" but that he simply doesn't "have the guts to end it for real, on his watch."