Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump insisted that his plans to eliminate the Islamic State would remain secret so as not to tip off the enemy. Clearly, he believed that opacity is the key to bargaining in world politics.
But fast-forward to 2019, and three things have become manifestly clear. First, almost all of Trump’s military announcements in the Middle East echo the Obama administration’s. Like the 44th president, the 45th is eager to avoid entanglements in Syria and has publicly promised to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan as soon as possible. This is not surprising — in expressing these preferences, Obama and Trump reflect the sentiment of the American people.
Second, whatever semblance of a policy process that existed during Trump’s first few years on national security matters has evaporated. I warned back in May that Trump’s disenchantment with his hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, would have long-term consequences: “[Bolton] is not going to quit. Trump’s reluctance to be seen as the captain of an anarchic ship will make him more reluctant to fire Bolton than he otherwise would be. Which means we are likely to see the president undercutting his national security adviser — and vice versa — for the rest of 2019.”
Sure enough, my Washington Post colleagues John Hudson and Josh Dawsey made it clear last week just how bad the rift is among Trump’s advisers: “[Bolton’s] opposition to the diplomatic effort in Afghanistan has irritated President Trump, these officials said, and led aides to leave the National Security Council out of sensitive discussions about the agreement.”