On a scale from 1 to 10, Trump’s speech last night was an 8. Beyond receiving a passing grade, it was of vital importance that the world witness the Trump White House produce a well-considered policy and a quality presidential speech. It sounds like a low bar, but at home and abroad, many were justified in having their doubts. The idea of the administration sinking into a farce was taking root.
While he will never be a great orator, Trump successfully outlined his vision for the United States’ engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia. In doing so, he put the lie to the idea that he is unable to change his mind or listen to his advisers. Trump came into office with very different ideas for U.S. engagement abroad than what he defined last night.
Before anyone gets too carried away, let’s remember that the half-life of any positive trend in Trump World hasn’t been more than a couple of days, but maybe it is time to believe White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly is making a difference.
Admitting that he approached Afghanistan with clear biases, Trump was candid, saying, “My original instinct was to pull out … But all my life, I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.” Did Trump suggest he is learning on the job?!
At threshold moments in American history, a presidential address can do a lot to define a presidency. And last night, Trump not only outlined his path forward in a war that has nearly exhausted America but also did a little more cleaning up of his failed response to Charlottesville. The bottom line is that something or someone got through to the president and made him understand that serious work needed to be done.
The improvement in Trump’s performance did not go unnoticed. Just moments after Trump concluded his remarks, some of his most vocal Republican critics came out to publicly praise his plan. On Fox News, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, “I am very pleased with this plan, and I’m very proud of my president.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), as well, lauded the president’s remarks, tweeting, “#AfghanStrategy laid out by @POTUS was put together the right way. Careful review & consideration of multiple views & ideas. Very good.” Even Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who crossed an important threshold last week when he said Trump has not demonstrated the “stability” or “competence” required of a president, appeared to have been impressed, saying, “I support the direction President Trump laid out tonight for the U.S. role in Afghanistan.”
Anyway, if nothing else, the administration has bought itself some time. It will be important to watch whether the man who sits in the Oval Office sees the benefit of a more serious and disciplined approach.