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President Trump now has final say on the direction of a war he's spent years criticizing, tweeting as far back as 2012 that the U.S. should just pull out of Afghanistan. But, as he said last night, "decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office." And so a troop increase of about 4,000 is coming, though Trump declined to get into numbers or tactics during his speech last night. It is a major departure from his "America First" foreign policy philosophy he outlined during the campaign.
Trump has spent months trying to hash out a plan for Afghanistan. (The Washington Post has a good behind-the-scenes breakdown of how the negotiations went: clashes between generals and nationalists like Steve Bannon, scrapped ideas to privatize the troops in Afghanistan or to, yes, leave entirely.)
In the end, Trump went with the advice of his generals, my colleague Trudy Rubin wrote this morning: a modest troop surge and a "tougher line" on Pakistan and its harboring of terrorists.
Trump is the third commander-in-chief of the war in Afghanistan, America's longest, and area experts say the options there are increasingly dire.
Paul McHale, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense under former President George W. Bush and a former Democratic congressman from Allentown, told me Trump was right to stay mum on military specifics — we've revealed too much about our plans in the past. But the president also has to pressure the Taliban to the negotiation table if he hopes to end the war, McHale said, and he felt last night's address wasn't forceful enough: "It's now up to the Department of Defense to communicate that message of resolve."
And Joe Sestak, a retired two-star admiral and former Delco congressman who's run twice for the Senate, told me Trump's address last night was too vague — the president stressed we would win in Afghanistan, but didn't say what "winning" might mean, or how much it might cost.