Lipstick on a Pig: Trump's Speech on Afghanistan - by Greer Clem

Last night, Trump delivered a speech from the Fort Myer military base in Virginia to address plans for the war in Afghanistan. We are by now used to Trump giving press conferences with little to no preparation, accustomed to seeing him give illogical responses and make hasty conclusions that leave his aides scrambling. Last night, we saw a departure from his usual style of deliverance, but were left with a similar message. In short, Trump's speech last night was nothing more than lipstick on a pig - it was a prettier pig, more eloquently delivered, but underneath we were left with much the same confusion as has become customary. 

First of all, though the speech last night was more polished than any Trump has given so far as President, his deliverance was entirely uncomfortable. Watching Trump read from a teleprompter was akin to watching someone attend the funeral of a former foe, trying to appear somber while instead coming off as fake. It's hard to act sincere when there are no genuine underlying feelings and when you lack substantive knowledge of the issue you are discussing. All great speeches - conservative or liberal- are delivered from a place of emotional earnestness. So while the Trump administration seems to have finally tracked down a speech writer with some capabilities, the cohesiveness was marred by the vessel which relayed it. 

I next want to address Trump's comments about our troops. He said, "The men and women of our military operate as one team... They transcend every line of race, ethnicity, creed and color to serve together and sacrifice together in perfect cohesion That is because all service members are part of the same family. It's called the American family. They take the same oath, fight for the same flag and live according to the same law."  These words, when delivered by someone who means them, would have been powerful and moving. Unfortunately, this was being said by the same man who only a few weeks ago banned transgender troops from continued military service. In a tweet, Trump said "Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail." Clearly he does not include transgender troops as those brothers and sisters who are part of the same American family. He sees their identities as interfering with the perfect cohesion with which our military operates, which is not only disgusting but completely ignorant.

No fewer than 56 officers from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard signed a letter opposing Trump's viewpoint, and they would know far better what is needed for the cohesion and success of a military endeavor. In fact, they argued that the proposed ban would "degrade readiness" of our troops, saying, "This proposed ban, if implemented, would cause significant disruptions and deprive the military of mission-critical talent." Therefore, Trump himself is imposing disruption on the troops he just praised. While he said our troops come together despite "race, ethnicity, creed and color," he clearly values gender identity and sexual orientation as unimportant. His words are thus rendered hollow by his own prejudicial beliefs. 

I also want to address several statements Trump made regarding Afghanistan. He said, "After the extraordinary sacrifice of blood and treasure, the American people are weary of war without victory. Nowhere is this more evident than with the war in Afghanistan." First, I am not sure what sacrifices of treasure are, though this is worth noting because it is so characteristically Trump - nothing is more substantial to him than the loss of wealth in all it's gilded glory. Blood and treasure are not equal in my mind; you cannot compare the loss of american lives to whatever treasure he is here referring to, so this further enforces that Trump comes from a place of little military experience and even less compassion. 

Next, let's talk about Afghanistan. Trump said, "I share the American people’s frustration. I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money — and most importantly, lives — trying to rebuild countries in our own image instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations." While true that there is valid frustration about our continued involvement in Afghanistan, we need to examine the latter part of this statement. Trump says we should not prioritize rebuilding other countries in the image of democracy because our own security interests are paramount. That statement would be fair enough, except for the fact that he later says, "A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda... just as happened before Sept. 11. And as we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq. As a result, our hard-won gains slipped back into the hands of terrorist enemies." Here, Trump contradicts himself. He says we should prioritize our own security but to not abandon our efforts with a hasty withdrawal. His solution to this contradiction? More troops and condition-based responses. However, this is an incomplete answer. The true solution is the one he wishes to dismiss altogether: diplomacy.

Conditions-based responses seem like a rational military policy, given that they require unique evaluation before action is taken. However, Trump announced this plan in conjunction with the statement, "I will not say when or where we will attack, but attack we will." I would therefore urge caution, because operating in secrecy within the borders of another country sews distrust and enmity. What tool ensures that condition-based responses do not hinder communication with occupied countries? Diplomacy. 

Trump is right - a hasty withdrawal would be dangerous. It would leave behind an unstable and ruined nation which has fallen prey to terrorist cells before. But he fundamentally misunderstands diplomacy. Diplomacy would both advance our national security interests and help rebuild Afghanistan - and why can't we have both? Isn't that what makes America unique? Trump didn't think Afghanistan or Pakistan dangerous enough to put on his travel ban list, yet he advocates that we operate within their borders as purely cold, removed muscle, ever teetering on abandoning cooperation with the government of Afghanistan. That is not only dangerous international policy, it is un-american in its ideals. 

The motivation behind Trump's statements last night was clear: in the wake of Charlottesville and Trump's egregious response, he needed to play to heroism, placate his base, and publicly demonstrate his commitment to our country. He needed an opportunity to make himself appear strong again and show he was in control. The substance of the announcement itself was of little consequence. After all, announcing that you're sending several thousand more troops to Afghanistan does not usually require such a speech. A statement could be made from the Briefing Room or the Rose Garden. Heck, Trump has made more significant announcements via Twitter. So let us not be fooled by his motivations nor manipulated by the more coherent package in which they arrived. Trump has made it clear he does not understand the importance of communication, and though his military counselors may have offered valid pieces of his argument, overall it lacks the fundamental key that America needs to see success in any military conflict: diplomacy. As we must be diplomatic among ourselves, so we must be among our enemies. 

Greer Clem