Tonight, in his latest attempt to appear presidential, President Trump addressed the nation on live television. The President of the United States was on his best behavior, making the moment a notable high for Trump, and because that is worth mentioning, another painful reminder of how low the office has fallen under his care.
Legendary journalist and anchor Dan Rather watched Trump read the speech and saw the troubling truth behind the words. He took to Facebook immediately following and shared his insightful commentary.
His post is below in its entirety:
Afghanistan – America’s longest war is given primetime presidential attention yet again. Like an old AM radio with a distant channel only coming faintly into focus, the hum of this tragic conflict has been a backdrop to our national mission for far too long.
Mr. Trump was on message, clearly reading from a teleprompter. His early words focused, oddly, on a vision of an inclusive military (race and culture, although sexual orientation wasn’t mentioned). It was a disjointed and seemingly belated message for tolerance and against bigotry. The words were positive, but did it seem like his heart was in the message?
And after that prelude, Mr. Trump turned to the topic at hand. He decried nation building. Again, as he spoke the words, the teleprompter reading was so noticeable that he rarely looked into the camera at the American people he was addressing. He said his instinct was to pull out, but that somehow he had changed his mind by the responsibility of sitting in the Oval Office. His history lesson, a faulty retelling of the Iraq withdrawal and a simplistic linking to 9/11, did not suggest a nuanced understanding of these complicated forces.
Noticeably, he took a tough tact with Pakistan, which you can expect to hear a lot more about. He also lay down a marker with India. The president blamed, obliquely, his predecessor for dealing him a bad hand. But he said, “we will win.” The problem is, what is victory? What is winning? We hear a lot of the word, but not much of a definition? What was not mentioned, was the rise of Iran as a major player.
The fight in Afghanistan is being framed as a fight against the forces unleashed in Barcelona. But the Taliban is a more complicated foe. Afghanistan has bedeviled empires for centuries, for a reason. Mr. Trump gave lip service to diplomacy, even as his State Department is severely understaffed and rudderless.
The address had many of the rhetorical flourishes of a major policy address – including several “pillars” which frankly did not resonate enough to leave a mark of recognition in my own mind.
Mr. Trump seemed most passionate when he talked about the power of American firepower. “Our troops will fight to win”
His “new strategy” at the end of his speech sounded exactly what we have been doing for the past several years. The idea of shifting from time based approaches to conditions based, sounds good. But what are the conditions for success? And how do we achieve them? Those issues were left unanswered. The big headline from tonight is that there really wasn’t one. This has been one of the most intractable problems in America’s foreign policy. Afghanistan is a land that is immune to simple words. It is a place that swallows strategy. Where do we go from here? That question still hangs out there, unanswered.
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