Stanislaw Lem’s 1968 book, His Master’s Voice, portrayed first contact between an extra-terrestrial species and the efforts needed to translate the language they used, for human understanding.
Today’s Afghanistan speech by President Trump may be equally alien to his electoral base, though it was not difficult to figure out whose influence led to the speech’s neoconservative bent.
HR McMaster’s voice was clear to hear. It’s a voice that appears to have been carried over from the George W. Bush administration, and even the Obama White House.
Today, President Trump tried to explain himself, and even excuse himself, to the base who voted for his non-interventionist streak.
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. In other words, when you are president of the United States. So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle. After many meetings over many months, we held our final meeting last Friday at Camp David with my cabinet and generals to complete our strategy. I arrived at three fundamental conclusion about America’s core interests in Afghanistan.
This isn’t about changing his perspective on the war. POTUS is a remarkably astute and stubborn individual. This was about the swamp getting to him.
Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2013
Compare it to President Obama in 2015:
Following consultations with my entire national security team, as well as our international partners and members of Congress, President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, I’m therefore announcing the following steps, which I am convinced offer the best possibility for lasting progress in Afghanistan. First, I’ve decided to maintain our current posture of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year, 2016.
Now President Trump says he won’t put numbers on his involvement, nor would he put specifics regarding victory on the table.
In 2015, Obama gave very little detail about what victory looked like for the United States. Tonight, President Trump attempted to allay the concerns of the war-weary American people, but was equally vague in his rhetoric:
“Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition. — attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge. We will ask our NATO allies and global partners to support our new strategy, with additional troop[s] and funding increases in line with our own. We are confident they will.
None of these are real measurables. Indeed, the insistence upon a “conditions” based strategy leaves the door even further open than Obama did. This was the only substantive difference between the pair. Obama gave numbers — probably an error — where President Trump would not. But Trump’s Afghanistan war — which I warned back in May was actually ‘McMaster’s War’ — is actually more open-ended. Even an ex-Obama advisor has admitted so:
It was Obama's policy with criticism of Obama and a pledge to stay in Afghanistan longer in pursuit of objectives that won't be achieved https://t.co/NYHegCSbpT
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) August 22, 2017
None of this is to deny the importance of tackling radical Islamic terrorism and its harboring nations, but when President Trump “our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check”, this flies in complete contravention to the earlier statement. It can only either be a measurable victory, not based on “conditions” on the ground, or it is a not a blank check. It cannot be both.
And guess who used the same rhetoric in 2009? You got it… Obama:
“This effort must be based on performance,” he said. “The days of providing a blank check are over.”
The presidency by its nature lives in a bubble. When you fill it with former general officers, you’re going to get that stream of advice. And so tonight, I would predict, sadly, that we will hear more of the same of the last 16 years and, sadly, exactly what the president campaigned against last year in the presidential election,” he said.
How, by the way, can a “conditions” based policy be antithetical to nation building, as we are being asked to believe? Conditions on the ground in Afghanistan will not change without the nation being built? Without their police and military being trained? Without their institutions growing up and becoming secure? Too many comments in this speech make no sense in the real world.
And consider who the talking heads are congratulating President Trump for his speech tonight. Sen. Lindsay Graham — Obama’s favorite Republican to dine with — burst out of the blocks praising President Trump. So did the RNC, and watch the media response — for once not hysterical about President Trump’s policies. What does that say, that the establishment has consensus amongst itself on this issue? Nothing good, if you ask me.
The dwindling crowd of Wilsonians and Scoop Jacksonites will no doubt laud President Trump’s decision to have an open-ended, vague commitment to this foreign quagmire, but his base will unlikely be as rewarding.
What was evident during the wending and sometimes contradictory speech, was the alien language and policy as far was POTUS’s supporters are concerned: it was McMaster’s Voice, and does not require a team of scientists in Nevada — per Lem’s novel — to figure that out.
Raheem Kassam is the editor in chief of Breitbart London and author of the new book: ‘No Go Zones: How Sharia is Coming to a Neighborhood Near You’