President Donald Trump gave a speech on Aug. 21 to introduce his much-anticipated plan for American military involvement in Afghanistan, and it was… underwhelming. Despite hype from the White House portraying it as Trump's biggest foreign policy decision, the overall message was, “we're not changing much, and I'm not telling the details.” And the internet noticed: tweets about Trump's Afghanistan plan speech are calling him out for saying pretty much nothing.
Trump announced that the new policy would change “dramatically,” by shifting from what he called a “time-based approach” to an approach based on conditions. In other words, the Trump administration doesn't want to talk deadlines or timelines, essentially leaving the question of American troops in Afghanistan open-ended.
We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America's enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will. … Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban and Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen.
So, America is staying in Afghanistan, but he won't say how many American troops will be there, or for how long, or what the specific goals are. So, what was the point of the speech?
Everyone noticed that Trump had delivered an entire speech to say he wouldn't say anything.
That was 27 minutes of our lives we'll never get back.
What the speech did have? Plenty of empty rhetoric about "winning" and fighting terrorism.
Plenty of people called it out for its chest-pounding and self-congratulatory tone. Some suggested that it was only a distraction to divert attention from domestic issues, like Trump's response to recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and take some pressure off the administration.
Trump did say that there would be focus on counterterrorism and particularly fighting terrorism in Pakistan, where 9/11 planner Osama Bin Laden was found in 2011. And despite his reluctance to offer details, reports said that Trump planned to send 4,000 additional troops into the country, according to CNN.
He also had to eat his own words on Afghanistan.
Over the course of the Obama presidency, Trump repeatedly called for the withdrawal of American troops — Vox has a collection of his tweets calling on Obama to get out.
But as president, it seems that Trump is viewing the situation differently. He said,
My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts. But all my life, I have heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.
Well, now he has the opportunity to see for himself.