President Donald Trump’s foreign policy has always been a hodgepodge of contradictory decisions. He claimed to want to get the U.S. out of Syria during the 2016 campaign, but also threatened to bomb the (turds) out of them. Trump’s policy as president is about as confuzzling with wild vacillation from restraint (the withdrawal announcement from Syria and Afghanistan) to policing the world (see Yemen airstrikes).
Today’s interview with CBS’ Face the Nation is another example of policy pendulum swinging. Here’s one of his comments on Afghanistan (emphasis mine).
We’ve been fighting for 19 years. Somebody said you were precipitously bringing to- precipitously? We’ve been there for 19 years. I want to fight. I want to win, and we want to bring our great troops back home. I’ve seen the people. I go to Walter Reed Hospital. I see what happens to people. I see with no legs and no arm- arms. And I’ve seen also what happens to them up here because they’re in this situation, and they come back and they are totally different people– where the wives and the fathers and the mothers say, “What has happened to my son? What has happened in some cases to my daughter?” It’s a terrible thing. We’ve been there close to 19 years. And it’s time. And we’ll see what happens with the Taliban. They want peace. They’re tired. Everybody’s tired. We’d like to have- I don’t like endless wars. This war. What we’re doing is got to stop at some point.
Trump is absolutely correct in this statement. He provides an excellent description of how the toil of war affects the psyche and bodies of soldiers – and why war should be avoided at all costs.
The problem with this answer is it’s completely contradictory to one Trump gave seconds before when asked what he was planning to do with Afghanistan.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is there a scenario where you would keep troops in Afghanistan? A smaller number?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes. And I’ll leave intelligence there. Real intelligence, by the way. I’ll leave intelligence there and if I see nests forming, I’ll do something about it…
MARGARET BRENNAN: When are [the troops in Syria] coming home?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They’re starting to, as we gain the remainder, the final remainder of the caliphate of the area, they’ll be going to our base in Iraq, and ultimately some will be coming home. But we’re going to be there and we’re going to be staying-–
So we’re leaving Syria – but the troops aren’t going to come back to America because they’re going to Iraq. Trump also threatened to go back into Syria if things get worse.
MARGARET BRENNAN: See a resurgence of terror groups like Al-Qaeda–
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And you know what we’ll do? We’ll come back if we have to. We have very fast airplanes, we have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly, and I’m not leaving. We have a base in Iraq and the base is a fantastic edifice. I mean I was there recently, and I couldn’t believe the money that was spent on these massive runways. And these- I’ve rarely seen anything like it. And it’s there. And we’ll be there. And frankly, we’re hitting the caliphate from Iraq and as we slowly withdraw from Syria…
That’s not exactly “coming home,” Mr. President and one would hope he’d be willing to have a vote in Congress before launching any sort of new assault in Syria (a vote the Constitution demands).
Trump’s reason to stick around the region? Iran and the fact the Iraq military base is “incredible.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you want to keep troops there now?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: –but when it was chosen– well, we spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it. And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Whoa, that’s news. You’re keeping troops in Iraq because you want to be able to strike in Iran?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, because I want to be able to watch Iran. All I want to do is be able to watch. We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It’s perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up. And this is what a lot of people don’t understand. We’re going to keep watching and we’re going to keep seeing and if there’s trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we’re going to know it before they do.
This is ridiculous. Why couldn’t he sell the base – like he’s doing with arms – to the Iraqis or the Arab League? Would it not be considered a ‘win-win’ because it saves the U.S. money, brings troops home, and helps the Arab League or whoever start policing the region better? After all, the Arab League, not to mention Israel, want to keep an eye on Iran, so why not let them do it? That seems more logical than the threat of another war.
Of course, Trump’s wide foreign policy swings don’t just involve the Middle East. He was asked about troops going to Venezuela – and, no surprise to anyone who read last year’s AP report claiming he wanted to remove Nicholas Maduro via invasion – Trump won’t rule it out.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What would make you use the U.S. military in Venezuela? What’s the national security interest?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well I don’t want to say that. But certainly it’s something that’s on the- it’s an option.
Lovely (not). There is no national security interest in Venezuela and the situation is still fluid with the socialist dictator Maduro in a standoff with socialist-lite Juan Guaidó. More U.S. involvement isn’t the answer and would more than likely destabilize the country – especially if Russia decides to flex its military muscles by backing Maduro more than it is already. The fact Maduro sold gold to UAE possibly (?) with Russia’s help is disturbing. Why foment more acrimony by sending in troops?
Perhaps Trump’s only consistency, when it comes to foreign policy, is his inconsistency. He should stick with his claimed non-interventionist instincts. The fact he’s not isn’t surprising, but still a disappointment.