President Trump’s second State of the Union address touched sparingly on foreign policy, and where it did, offered little sign that US withdrawals from Syria or Afghanistan are still on track, or indeed that any wars will actually be ending.
Though Trump did give lip-service to the danger of “foolish wars,” he spent much more time and specificity hyping his major increases in military spending, and military buildup. To the extent he presented wars as potentially ending at all, he tried to spin them as military victories, with minor reductions to troop levels coming at some uncertain time in the future.
Trump did say that “great nations cannot fight endless wars,” and mentioned giving troops in Syria a “warm welcome home.” He remained vague on this however, beyond a reduction in troop levels, and the only possibility for ending a war was in Afghanistan, where it was dependent on negotiations.
Where specifics were touched on, Trump announced 3,750 more troops were being sent to the southern border, and promised again to invest heavily in a new missile defense system, vowing to “outspend and out-innovate all others by far.”
In general, though, policy proclamations were very run-of-the-mill, talking up the threat posed by Iran by complaining that “they do bad, bad things,” and bragging about ditching the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran.
Talk of diplomacy was also kept to a minimum, though President Trump did confirm the upcoming summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un would take place at the end of February in Vietnam.
President Trump did also address the “constructive talks” with the Taliban in Afghanistan, though once again he only talked of troop reductions, and made no mention of possibly ending that war outright.
Defense Priorities Director Benjamin H. Friedman urged a continued push toward ending the Afghan War, saying that Trump’s talk of “counterterrorism does not require continuing the war there.”
Other experts concurred, with Notre Dame Security Center Director Michael Desch saying it is “well past time to wrap up America’s longest war and bring the troops home from Afghanistan.”
This seemed to be the plan in reports surrounding US-Taliban negotiations, though a recent Senate vote expressed opposition to this pullout. This seems to have prompted a change, and the Trump Administration is now only suggesting a drawdown, and not an outright withdrawal from either Afghanistan or Syria.
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