October 15, 2020
President Donald Trump, down in the polls, has been aggressively trying to find an “October Surprise” – a news bomb or development that will shake the electoral terrain with less than three weeks until the November 3 election. His “Hail Mary” passes have included recycling the Ukraine nepotism scandal against Democratic rival Joe Biden (one that may be true but the mainstream media has reduced to non-starter) to stripping his tie off at a rally in Iowa, eliciting an uproarious crescendo from the MAGA faithful. Yet these gimmicks are likely to be fleeting, fading even before the day of the vote.
Hence, the New York billionaire is reportedly contemplating leaning on his resume as Donald The Peacemaker, and unveiling a “huge” plan for Afghanistan. This in addition to the pacts Washington brokered between Israel and de facto Sunni allies in the Gulf, regardless how obscenely cynical said deals might be. None of the stakeholders in the latter arrangements, by the way, seek peace. On the contrary, they are forging an alliance to topple Iran’s Shia cleric rulers. But that is the beauty of high-quality reality television expertly executed (even the mainstream media went along with that hoax).
This forthcoming plan on Afghanistan that is allegedly in the works, for example, is neither huge nor novel. The substance of the grand decision is secondary to the optics, even now more than ever considering Trump is down by double-digits in recent polling. The goal is to instill in the collective conscience imagery that lasts – at least for about 20 days – something mud-slinging and Kardashian-quality programming is ill-suited to deliver.
His administration has publicly announced and hailed the president’s plan to reduce the American military footprint in Afghanistan to 4,000 or 4,500 troops by next month. However, now Trump is considering holding a major foreign policy speech ahead of the election and announcing that the U.S. will reduce troop levels to 3,000 by early 2021, NBC reported on October 14, citing senior administration officials.
The content of this speech is certainly less tantalizing than recent tweets and interviews that probably made several advisers and Pentagon planners faint.
“We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!” Trump said in a tweet on October 7.
Within 24 hours, however, he had hedged his promise by at least six days.
“We are in negotiations,” Trump told FOX News on October 8. “I’ve been bringing them home. We are down to 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, and I‘ll have them home by the end of the year. They are coming home, you know, as we speak.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who apparently watches FOX News, shortly applauded the announcement in a tweet.
“Islamic Emirate welcomes these remarks and considers it a positive step for the implementation of the agreement signed between The IEA and the US,” Mujahid said, referring to the February withdrawal pact the Americans struck with the radical movement.
Yet, according to the report, Trump’s staff was less receptive to the news.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who believes we’ll be at zero by the end of the year,” a senior administration official said as quoted by NBC.
U.S. military chief Mark Milley has argued for maintaining a residual force to defend the U.S. embassy in Kabul and conduct counterterrorism operations, the report added. Moreover, other officials are concerned that announcing the exit date is counter to the “conditions-based” approach they have repeatedly pushed in contrast to Obama’s withdrawal timeline, which they felt telegraphed U.S. strategy to the enemy.
Regardless the actual numbers, the foreign policy speech might be a good strategy because it affords an opportunity to contrast his record with Biden’s – or, should I say, the Trumpian view of the former vice president’s record. Trump is certainly on the money when he slams the former Delaware senator for backing the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but Biden’s record during the Obama administration vis-à-vis Afghanistan is more complex.
Biden was actually the voice of reason inside the Obama White House on several security issues. He opposed the Afghan surge, the toppling of Gaddafi and the arming of extremists in Syria. In fact, Biden proposed a “small footprint” strategy in Afghanistan that looks much like what Trump is pushing.
Moreover, a Biden administration would unlikely deviate from the plan Trump will have put in motion. In September, Biden told the Stars and Stripes newspaper that the U.S. should keep around 1,500 to 2,000 troops in Afghanistan at the most.
It is safe to assume that the real estate magnate showman will not appreciate these nuances. In fact, the president will do everything possible to muddy the waters and portray Biden as an accomplice to every bad national security decision the Obama administration made.
As would any politician. Especially when facing political extinction.