A Grain Of Saul: Trump Broke His Promise. More Troops Will Go To Afghanistan. So Here's What We Do.

POTUS laid out no timetable for our country's longest conflict ever.

Of all the promises President Donald Trump made on Twitter and on the campaign trail, one seemed to unify voters more than anything else: the promise of less money spent on war overseas.

The president pledged not to waste taxpayer money abroad on seemingly unwinnable wars, a bucking of the Republican establishment that his supporters cheered. But it was also a sentiment echoed across the aisle by formerPresident Barack Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders and even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was doing her best to shake the moniker of "war hawk."


Several pundits repeated the idea that Trump would be a "dove" and Hillary would be a hawk, that one would stop wasting money on war and the other would only inflate the price tag.

But now we know that isn't the case.

Monday night, in his first national address as president, Trump informed the American people that his "original instinct" was wrong about Afghanistan, and we'll be staying in the longest conflict in U.S. history for an unforeseen amount of time.

"We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities," Trump, who also promised a transparent presidency, said. "Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on."

But, based on several media reports, we know what President Trump's plan is: increase troop levels to the tune of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers and put pressure on neighboring countries like Pakistan and India to help fight extremist groups in the region. His decision to move towards more troops will, in all likelihood, be a tremendous disappointment to his base, who he won over with comments like this:

"I agree with Pres. Obama on Afghanistan," Trump wrote in a 2013 tweet. "We should have a speedy withdrawal. Why should we keep wasting our money — rebuild the U.S.!" 

On the campaign trail, his tune changed a bit. Instead of saying he'd pull out immediately, Trump said the threat of Pakistan — which borders Afghanistan — using a nuclear weapon meant we'd need to stay for a while and figure things out. He even suggested mining minerals in Afghanistan to pay for the cost of war.

But he also continued to rail against wasted money in the Middle East and abroad and promised over and over to start spending money here at home first. His comments then play in stark contrast to his actions now: he authorized an airstrike in Syria, escalated tensions with North Korea, and his air war against ISIS is killing 12 civilians a day.

"Bottom line: Trump has now expanded US military presence and/or airstrikes in EVERY combat theater he inherited from Obama," Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter.

Of course, adding 3,000 to 5,000 troops in Afghanistan won't do much good. In 2010, there were more than 100,000 troops there. After President Obama's surge, he moved to bring all the troops home, but ultimately failed: today, the number is more like 8,000. Which means the additional troops would give President Trump about one tenth of what America had there just seven years ago, and the war continues to drag on. Today, the United States-aided Afghan government controls just 57 percent of the country, down from 72 percent a little over a year ago. The rest is largely in the hands of Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.

Trump's reversal, not just on Afghanistan but also more generally, his purported foreign policy, is incredibly disappointing. Even for those Americans who have so far opposed Trump at every step, there seemed to be some hope for less intervention abroad and more money spent at home upon his election. Some Sanders supporters admitted jumping off the Hillary train for this reason alone. Memes and tweets comparing the cost of a single fighter jet vs. the cost of schools, hospitals or infrastructure were hugely popular during the 2016 election. The message was clear: Americans don't want more war because they understand our military is already dominant, well-funded, wasteful, and eating up a huge portion of our country's tax dollars.

And while his first national address — and his presidency thus far — seems to put a damper on hopes that might change, there is still much we can do.

If you're a politician, speak out on behalf of the people. Ask your constituents where they want their money spent: on Afghanistan or on a local school. On a fighter jet or on a hospital in your town. From Sen. Rand Paul to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, there are plenty of well-known elected officials who could pressure President Trump to move towards a less interventionist military mindset.

If you're a pundit at Breitbart, CNN, Fox News or any of the other media outlets Trump has been known to follow— hold the president accountable. Remember his words when he promised to stop spending money on war. Take him to task for bending to the will of the generals around him. Demand that he fulfills the promise he made to his voters that we'd have less war and more money spent at home.

And, most importantly, if you're an American, do something. Anything. Get out in the streets and protest. Call your representatives and demand they publicly oppose an escalation of the war. Post a Facebook status or tweet about why you oppose more wasteful spending. Talk to your fellow Americans and find comfort in the fact that many of you can agree our foreign policy needs a drastic change.

With all the politician tension and divisions that exist today, a bipartisan commitment to de-escalation and fewer wars should be an easy sell. It'll be up to President Trump to decide if he wants to do the work to get it done. 

Correction: This article previously noted that President Trump expressed concerned about the threat of Pakistan obtaining a nuclear weapon. It's been updated to reflect his concern was that Pakistan would use their nuclear arsenal in a conflict with India. 

Cover photo: Shutterstock /  Evan El-Amin.

Follow @Ike_Saul on Twitter for more political coverage.


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