- - Thursday, August 24, 2017

President Trump’s plan to send more U.S. troops into Afghanistan means that our 16-year-old war against the Taliban terrorists will continue for years to come.

And many casualties to come, too. At least 2,344 American soldiers have died in America’s longest war and 19,675 others have been wounded.

Mr. Trump’s decision represents a major flip-flop in his long standing opposition to the war. In October 2011, when he was preparing to run for president, he tweeted, “When will we stop wasting our money on rebuilding Afghanistan?”

“We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let’s get out!” he tweeted in November 2013.

Over succeeding months, he said “it is time to get out of Afghanistan,” that the war was “a total disaster,” and it is “Time to come home!”

In October, 2015, as he began to campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, he said going to war in Afghanistan was a “terrible mistake” and “a mess.” But later that month, as he reflected on the many Americans whose sons were in the war, he sent a clarification saying it wasn’t a mistake following the terrorist attacks in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.

Then, suddenly, Mr. Trump changed his mind after several high-level briefings with his military advisers who warned him that unless more troops were sent there, Afghanistan would fall to the Taliban.

In a televised address Monday night from Fort Myer, just across the Potomac River in Arlington, Va., standing in front of a line of military flags, Mr. Trump admitted, “My original instinct was to pull out — and, historically, I like to follow my instincts.

“But all of my life, I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office,” he said.

He offered no clear details about his strategy, placing no deadline on the deployment in this new chapter in the war, except to say that the additional troops would be successful in their mission.

His predecessor had made a similar speech in 2009 when he announced that 30,000 more troops would be sent to Afghanistan, only to eventually begin a long and steady withdrawal.

Pentagon insiders say the troop deployment will be in the 4,000 range, in addition to 8,500 soldiers who are now in the region.

Reaction from Republicans was mixed. House Speaker Paul Ryan praised Mr. Trump for offering a new “doctrine” of “principled realism,” blaming President Obama for making a “strategic mistake” when he had set forth a timetable for withdrawals.

Sen. John McCain said “this strategy is long overdue,” adding that Mr. Trump “is now moving us well beyond the prior administration’s failed strategy of merely postponing defeat.”

But Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a longtime libertarian opponent of military expansion, said it was “a terrible idea to send any more troops” to Afghanistan.

That was not the message Mr. Trump got from his chief military advisers, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, when they gathered at Camp David last Friday to lay out the president’s war plan.

But how is Mr. Trump’s reversal playing with his political base who had been led to believe that he would pull out of Afghanistan, lock, stock and barrel?

Before Mr. Trump fired his White House strategist Stephen Bannon, the fiery nationalist architect of the “alt-right” was the West Wing’s chief opponent of sending more military troops there.

Instead, he pushed the idea of using civilian security forces under a federal contract with the formerly known Blackwater USA, a scheme that shocked Mr. Trump’s high command.

Now, Mr. Bannon has returned to his old job with Breitbart News where he’s lobbing a fierce flurry of online political attacks at Mr. Trump’s reinvented war plans. Here’s a sample of headlines from that website:

Trump “defends flip-flop in somber speech.”

“His McMaster’s voice: Is Trump Afghanistan policy that different from Obama’s?”

Donald Trump echoes Obama’s ‘Blank Check’ rhetoric in Afghanistan speech.”

Breitbart News is the online headquarters for millions of Mr. Trump’s supporters. But can Mr. Bannon’s political offensive succeed in eroding Mr. Trump’s large and loyal base?

Throughout his campaign, the billionaire real estate mogul would brag that he could shoot someone in Times Square and wouldn’t lose a single supporter.

They stuck with him through thick and thin because he “tells it like it is,” and never gives in, his voters said.

Now he has dramatically switched his position on U.S. participation in Afghanistan’s war and intends to send in many more troops.

With the Gallup Poll reporting that his job approval score has sunk below 40 percent, Mr. Trump certainly can’t afford to have it fall any lower.

• Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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