President Trump’s speech advocating a stepped-up military commitment in Afghanistan won him his first positive reviews from some Republicans in weeks — and a respite from the controversy over his handling of Charlottesville.
“I think I heard a new Trump strategy, or doctrine,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
“I think there’ll be a lot of bipartisan support in Congress for this proposal,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).
But the speech was a horror for one portion of Trump’s base — conservatives opposed to military adventurism. Having celebrated when Trump mocked the Bush-era foreign policy consensus, opposing (after the fact) the Iraq War.
“Everybody who voted for Donald Trump hoping that he would reduce the US military’s involvement in foreign wars has been made a fool of,” American Conservative columnist Rod Dreher wrote in a Wednesday morning column. “I’m sorry, but there it is.”
At AntiWar.com, a hub for anti-imperialist libertarians, the Trump speech was received with an arch sort of resignation. “The war party got to him,” wrote AntiWar’s Eric Garris, sharing a 2012 video in which Trump called for America to leave Afghanistan.
“We’ve wasted billions and billions of dollars, and more importantly, thousands and thousands of lives,” the future president said in the video.
For many anti-war conservatives, Trump’s flip-flop suggested that he had been bent, perhaps for good, by military advisers who had successfully sidelined the administration’s nationalists.
“[Trump] was elected to end America’s involvement in Middle East wars,” wrote Pat Buchanan, whose three runs for president as an America First nationalist presaged Trump’s own run. “If he has been persuaded that he simply cannot liquidate these wars — Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan — he will likely end up sacrificing his presidency, trying to rescue the failures of those who worked hardest to keep him out of the White House.”
In a column published Monday night, former GOP congressman Ron Paul — who had praised Trump’s campaign, and watched many of his supporters back Trump instead of his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for president — said that he knew Trump had embraced the new policy reluctantly, because he’d talked to him.
“I’ve spoken to the president, and I know he wants to end this war,” wrote Paul. “We’ve all heard him say it. But talk won’t get it done. Although I’ve been informed that the president rejected larger expansions of troops than the one announced this week, that’s not good enough. He should have rejected this one and stuck to his principles. He knows this war is over, and he — unlike the last two presidents — should have the guts to end it for real, on his watch.”
But other Trump critics were nervous about the policy itself. “Ultimately, an escalation of 4,000 troops and a re-commitment to the status quo likely would’ve been much milder than what Trump appears to be proposing,” wrote AntiWar’s Jason Ditz. “Trump’s determination to keep troop levels secret leaves the door open to a series of endless escalations down the road, which the American public are liable to never hear about.”