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The case against Trump’s decision to keep fighting in Afghanistan, explained by Trump

“Afghanistan is a complete waste.”

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

President Donald Trump used a rare primetime speech Monday night to tell the American people that the Afghan war — already the longest conflict in US history — was going to continue into the indefinite future.

“The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable,” the president said in the speech. “A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill.”

Perhaps the most striking thing about the speech, which was deliberately light on policy specifics like how many more troops would be deployed to Afghanistan, was that Trump had vocally and repeatedly criticized the war in Afghanistan in the harshest possible terms for years before taking office.

“I think the same as what I’ve been thinking for the past couple of years: What are we doing there? These people hate us,” Trump said in a 2012 Fox News appearance. “We’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars, trillions of dollars, on this nonsense — and the minute we leave, everything blows up, and the worst guy gets it. The one who hates this country the most will end up taking over Afghanistan.”

Roughly 2,350 Americans have died in Afghanistan, and the war has cost more than $1 trillion. Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, had reportedly argued against continuing the war on the grounds that it was too costly and had accomplished very little — the precise arguments the president himself had made the past.

Trump acknowledged the contradiction in his speech. “My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts,” he said. “But all my life, I have heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the oval office.”

But the word “instinct” underplays things. For the past several years, the president has been a staunch, consistent advocate for withdrawing from Afghanistan. Opposition to the war seemed, for the all the world, like a core policy position of his — one that he’s now reversing.

The best way to see this, as is often the case with Trump, is to look at Twitter. I searched Trump’s Twitter account — @realdonaldtrump — for every tweet mentioning the word “Afghanistan.” The result was dozens of tweets about the war, virtually all of which were criticizing the US effort there and calling for the troops to come home.

Here’s a sample:

The clear through-line — aside from the fact that the president seems to have believed “Afghani,” the name of Afghanistan’s currency, is actually the name of its people — is that Trump thinks the US needed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. There’s no doubt or room for interpretation: His tweets make that crystal clear.

Nor is this something that he tweeted once in an offhanded way, as the “instinct” phrasing in his speech suggested. This was a belief the president expressed repeatedly for four years on Twitter, one that appears to be about as deeply held as Trump is capable of getting. And yet, he’s decided to go back on it.

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