Donald Trump has spent years claiming that America’s “endless wars” are depleting the country’s resources and lives. That has altered in the wake of President Joe Biden’s departure from Afghanistan.
In private, the outgoing president saw an opportunity to blame his successor for the chaotic and deadly situation on the ground. Last week, he said that if the Taliban didn’t surrender largely obsolete American military equipment, “we should either go in with unequivocal Military force and get it or at the very least bomb the hell out of it.”
It was a significant change for Trump. In other comments, he bragged that he would have carried out a more “dignified” departure from the 20-year conflict, mainly in defense of the agreement made by his administration that established the conditions for the US to leave Afghanistan in May. The demand for greater military conflict came at a time when other Republicans, including those in his cabinet, were criticizing the initial agreement, saying that it was flawed in and of itself and that the party would be better served by taking a different path.
“I believe both administrations share responsibility for where we are today,” Trump National Security Council staffer Lisa Curtis said. “For negotiating a bad deal with the Taliban under the Trump administration. The Biden administration for failing to reevaluate and change direction on the deal.”
The dispute about who got it right and wrong in Afghanistan, as well as Trump’s endorsement of a future necessity for military involvement there, is at the heart of a broader discussion now raging inside the Republican Party over what the party’s foreign policy should be. And it reveals a more complex truth about the last five years: despite claims to the contrary, there has never been a clear-cut Trump ideology. Indeed, a definition is difficult for the overwhelming majority of Republicans.
As Trump prepares to run for president again, and as a slew of other Republicans consider running with him, the need to define Trump’s foreign policy philosophy has become increasingly important. Following Biden’s departure, a slew of senior Trump administration officials have written op-ed pieces and gone on television to support the Taliban agreement and Trump’s decision to leave Afghanistan.
Trump has re-convened advisers from his own national security council from the sidelines. He discussed the situation in Afghanistan with former acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, among others. He’s also made calls to family members who lost loved ones in the assault at Kabul’s airport during the last days of the military withdrawal, according to the Washington Post.
While Trump has adopted the stance of a president in exile, hawks in the Republican Party have seized the opportunity to claim that the tragic conclusion to the long war has validated their worldview, not Trump’s.
The wider GOP’s differences have been masked in part by a generally agreed-upon judgment that Biden should be held accountable first for how the war ended. When that time comes to an end, though, the infighting may have a significant influence, deciding if Trump’s approach can be maintained into future administrations. Inside Trump’s inner circle, it’s become apparent that his legacy, as well as the foreign policy course of the party he wants to head, is on the line.
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