You probably won’t hear much about it on CNN or MSNBC but President Trump gave the best speech of his presidency last night before an audience of US soldiers gathered at Ft. Myer, in Arlington, VA.
It wasn’t so much the details of his proposed strategy for preventing a “loss” in Afghanistan – in fact, Trump provided few of those – that made the address so memorable. It was Trump’s overall focus and tone, which was more than merely “presidential” – it was masterful.
It started with Trump’s somber but poignant introduction, in which he reminded Americans in a way that so few presidents have since Ronald Reagan that patriotism – love of country — is still the glue that holds us all together.
With the controversy over Charlottesville clearly in mind, the president reminded listeners about the power of “unity” in the face of challenges, domestic and international, and about the need for “love” to triumph over “hate.”
The president’s words were heartfelt and compelling, erasing any lingering impression – stoked largely by his media critics — that he somehow secretly sympathized with perpetrators of violence on the extreme right.
In fact, Trump made clear in a way that few presidents – including the lofty orator Barack Obama – have that differences over “race, ethnicity, color and creed” are not what defines the American spirit – either in peacetime or in war.
Speaking to the assembled soldiers, he seemed to invoke the unity of troops serving the country, especially in battle, as a standard for the entire country to follow.
And harkening back to the divisive Vietnam era, he also reminded the country – twice — that returning soldiers deserve honor and respect for their service on behalf of all Americans.
Trump’s introduction was provided a perfect lead-in to his discussion of America’s options in Afghanistan, where the president spoke with unusual candor and insight about how he approached these options.
Withdrawal, he noted, was what most Americans wanted, he acknowledged, and it was a position that he strongly sympathized with. Americans were tired of the longest war in their history. And he shared voter’s disgust that past progress on the battlefield in Afghanistan had been squandered because American troop commitments had been reduced precipitously by his predecessor, giving terrorists a chance to regroup.
However, America does have interests in Afghanistan, Trump noted, and for this reason it was necessary to stay engaged. But engagement did not mean “nation-building” or trying to “remake the country in America’s image,” he insisted.
Recalling his long-standing “America First” approach to foreign policy, the president acknowledged two fundamental goals:
The first and most important was to keep America safe from another 9/11. The attacks on the World Trade Center had been plotted on Afghan soil, Trump noted. “That must never happen again,” Trump declared.
Second was the need to prevent Al-Qaeda and the Taliban from having neighboring sanctuaries from which to wage war freely. For the first time ever, an American president openly acknowledged what the whole world knows: Muslim Pakistan has been aiding and abetting the war in Afghanistan.
“That will end,” Trump declared.
Trump’s speech was also refreshing for refusing to divulge operational details about America’s future-war-fighting strategy.
The president noted US forces would be closer to the battle and more directly engaged in helping the Afghanis fight the war. But he refused to divulge future troop levels or their precise mode of deployment.
Moreover, Trump said there would be no specific timetable for American involvement, which might allow the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to “wait us out,” as they had under Obama.
Trump also made clear that America’s objective would be “victory.”
At the same time, victory did not necessarily mean a total military defeat of the Taliban or even Al Qaeda. It might involve a negotiated settlement with a role for the Taliban in a future government, Trump implied.
The important point, Trump said, was that America would achieve an “enduring outcome,” a solution that would allow the United States to withdraw and let “Afghanis choose their own form of government” and “work out their own future for themselves.”
After the speech, retired Lt. Colonel Oliver North called it “just perfect.”
“I give him an A-plus on that speech,” North said on the Fox Business Network.
Senator Marco Rubio, a persistent Trump critic and rival for the presidency last year, also praised the speech, calling it “excellent.” The House GOP leadership also gave Trump high marks.
By contrast, Trump’s critics at CNN and MSNBC seemed crestfallen that Trump’s address might have allowed him to rebound from the pummeling they gave him after his remarks on the Charlottesville.
Fareed Zakaria, in a bizarre exchange with CNN anchor Don Lemon, went so far as to call Trump’s speech a “lost opportunity.”
In fact, Trump might even have an opportunity “reset” his presidency with his follow-up speech and rally in Arizona today.
But given the determination of the mainstream media to bring Trump down, it’s likely to be a short reprieve.