I think both administrations bear the blame for what we are today, said Lisa Curtis, a Trump National Security Council official. The Trump administration for negotiating a very bad deal with the Taliban. The Biden administration for not evaluating that agreement and changing the course.
The argument of who understood it as right and wrong in Afghanistan along with Trumps embracing the future need for military intervention is a key point of a larger debate now taking place within the Republican Party; a debate on what its foreign policy should be. And it is revealing a more complicated reality in the last five years: despite conflicting claims, there has never been an easily defined Trump doctrine. Indeed, for the vast majority of Republicans, one definition remains elusive.
I do not think there is a republican foreign policy or something that is coherent in any real way, said Shadi Hamid, a senior member at the Brookings Institution. Bidens’s withdrawal comes directly from the Trump deal, so this is a great legacy not only of Biden but also of Trump, so I think that complicates the whole story.
As Trump prepares for another presidential run, and as a host of other Republicans potentially join him, the desire to be the one defining Trump’s foreign policy doctrine has become paramount. Following Bidens’s withdrawal, a parade of former Trump administration officials appeared on open pages and on television to defend their agreement with the Taliban and Trump’s decision to leave Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Trump himself has gathered his aides from his national security council. Hess spoke with former National Intelligence Director Ric Grenell and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, among others, about the situation in Afghanistan. And, as the Washington Post reported, he called on those family members who lost their loved ones in the Kabul airport attack during the last days of the troop withdrawal.
But as Trumps took the stance of a president in exile, hawks in the Republican Party jump into the opening to say their worldview, not his, has been confirmed by the catastrophic end of the long war.
Slogans are not philosophy and posters are not doctrines, said Trump national security adviser John Bolton. There is no Trump doctrine because he cannot think steadily enough to create one, a series of cracked knee reactions. I think the reaction of the parties in general to the withdrawal from Afghanistan shows that the parties are actually returning to their pre-Trump approximations in national security policy.
When Trump ran for president in 2016, he was under the American flag first. The premise was simple: Instead of spending money on foreign interventions, the country would be better served by spending it at home. Trump campaigned for withdrawal from old alliances in the name of national interest and military or economic intervention only when he benefited directly from the American people. He established himself as the antithesis of George W. Bush’s neoconservative approach.
But it was not that simple. In fact, Trump had briefly supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And, when he took office, his foreign policy was often seen as unpredictable and detached for both enemies and allies abroad.
Trump helped normalize relations between Israel and Arab states in the region, withdrew US forces from Syria, and regularly pushed for troop reductions in countries like South Korea. But he also involved the military elsewhere, launching a missile strike to punish Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad for his use of chemical weapons against civilians, killing Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, and veto a measure to end US involvement in the war in Yemen. He conducted a highly personalized diplomatic mission to stop North Korea from advancing its nuclear weapons program, but also withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran in favor of a maximum-pressure campaign aimed at tightening the Iranian economy.
In Afghanistan, Trump was persistent in his efforts to withdraw troops from the country and signed a conditional peace deal in 2020 with the Taliban that allowed US troops to leave by May 2021. His commitment to do so provoked reactions from harsh from Republicans and caused a stir among aides, particularly over his idea of inviting the Taliban to Camp David in 2019 for negotiations, a plan that was eventually canceled. When Biden announced he would remove troops by a later date (September 11), Trump praised the result. but criticized the datewith
When the withdrawal turned out to be more catastrophic than anticipated, former Trump officials tried to defend their involvement. Pompeo went on a media tour attacking Biden while at the same time defending concessions made to the Taliban. Former Vice President Mike Pence defended the Trump deal and wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Biden embarrassed America on the world stage. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and former Trump national security adviser Robert OBrien defended the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in a lengthy interview at the Richard Nixon Library and Museum.
President Trump wanted to get out of Afghanistan, we wanted to go to China, OBrien said. But he wanted to come out with honor and dignity, no Saigon style departure and that was what we had.
But others from the Trump administration have argued that the withdrawal should serve as a focal point if Trumpism on the global stage was the right approach.
Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley stated that negotiating with the Taliban is like having a relationship with the devil, before making a distinction between Trump and Biden by doing so. Trump Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the former president undermined his deal with the Taliban by rushing to withdraw troops without making sure the Taliban had reached the end of the contract. And Chris Miller, Espers’ successor, told Defense One that the deal was just a way to put pressure on the Taliban and eventually maintain a small military presence in the country as terrorist fighters, but that never took place after Trump’s defeat. .
When asked about splits in the Republican Party and how he would define Trump post-Afghanistan doctrine, one of Trump national security advisers HR McMaster noted an essay he wrote about Foreign policy who said the cut may be emotionally appealing to Americans tired of prolonged military engagement abroad, but blindly adhering to an emotion-based orthodoxy rather than reason would make Americans less confident and put the United States further in the red.
The divisions within the broader GOP have been overshadowed, for the most part, by a mutually agreed conclusion that Biden must first be held accountable for how the war ended. But when that moment is over, the clashes could have a profound impact effectively determining whether the change of approach that Trump vowed to create can continue in future presidencies. Within Trumps’s own circle, it has become clear that his legacy is online, in addition to the foreign policy path taken by the party he hopes to lead now.
Maybe that risks overestimating the importance, but the challenge to American national security that will be posed by the events of the last six weeks in Afghanistan will be generation after generation, said a senior Trump administration official. It will be a massive problem.
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