“When will we stop wasting our money on rebuilding Afghanistan? We must rebuild our country first.”
“It is time to get out of Afghanistan. We are building roads and schools for people that hate us. It is not in our national interests.”
“Why are we continuing to train these Afghanis who then shoot our soldiers in the back? Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home!”
These Donald Trump`s tweets show his political position on American interventionism and confirm his America first attitude that was the spearhead of 2016 campaign for the General Election. Actually, they show his position until Monday`s news conference, when he announced that US military presence in Afghanistan will be bigger, although not specifying by how much (CNN later got an information that 3900 troops will be joining 8400 that are already in Afghan bases).
To his credit, the US President admitted changing his opinion, saying that he was forced into this decision by “bad dealings of previous administrations” and that he was immediately “dealt a bad and hard hand”. He said that there is fear of a possible power vacuum and that a similar situation in Iraq lead to the creation of ISIS. “Our main goal is to win”, proclaimed Trump, although what would be considered victory in Afghanistan remains a moving target.
But the facts still remain: when faced with shaping one of the most important policies in the first year of his Government, Trump didn`t decrease the number of Americans in the war zones, he went the opposite way.
US media have reported earlier (in July), that, in Afghanistan military questions, Trump has abdicated his position of Commender-in-Chief in favor of Defence Secretary James Mattis, an interesting precedent, since heading the military has historically been one of the most important duties on Presidents` plate.
Trump has earlier been criticised in some circles for having too many generals in his Cabinet, adding that they now have much more influence than in recent Administrations, especially in foreign affairs. Mattis obviously has a lot of freedom in acting, HR McMaster is a very trusted advisor on global affairs, John Kelly is slowly becoming the most important man in the White House day-to-day operations. And who can forget Michael Flynn and his alleged connections to Russia and Turkey?
CNN`s Patrick Bergen writes that Afghanistan is a very personal subject for many of the named generals. Mattis led the deepest assault from a ship in Marine Corps history near the key Taliban city of Kandahar in the southern part of the country. McMaster served there, there in 2010. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford was the commanding general in Kabul in 2013. And Kelly lost a son in Afghanistan, 29-year-old Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly who was killed by a landmine there in 2010. All of this probably was in play when they made Trump change his mind in Camp David meeting days before the press conference.
Regardless, Trump came to the same place where Barack Obama was, whether he likes it or not. Governing is not the same as campaigning. Obama wanted to end US military presence in Afghanistan. He never finished that mission. He had three years to go through with George W Bush`s withdrawal plan from 2008, but US forces stayed on the ground. He promised to close Guantanamo Bay prison, but it is still up and running. He ran on an anti-interventionist platform and then ordered an attack on Lybia during his first term. Obama was saying the right things, but World was less of a safe place after his eight years. A place where the Donald Trump effect can happen. Trump is saying it in a less politically correct way, but the caravans so far seem to be going the same way.
In the end, US`s official foreign policy is very hard to change, even for a sitting president. The biggest effect Trump could have is following up on a promise that his Administration is going to break with the practice of “exporting democracy”. “We will not participate in nation building any more”, Trump said, adding that Afghanis have the most responsibility for what happens in their country. But, the jury is still out on that one.