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Trump’s Silver Lining on Afghanistan

Two truths I’ve learned in the last 24 hours:Truth Number 1: A total eclipse is orders of magnitude beyond a 98 percent eclipse of the sun.

By Steve Berman

The reason we have to wear special glasses right up to the second of “totality” is that any sunlight shining past the moon is ten thousand times brighter than totality.

Truth Number 2: The presidency changes people, even Donald Trump.

I didn’t believe Truth Number 2 applied to Trump at all until last night. But witness his words:

That is why shortly after my inauguration, I directed Secretary of Defense Mattis and my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of all strategic options in Afghanistan and South Asia. My original instinct was to pull out. And historically, I like following my instincts.

But all my life I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, in other words, when you’re President of the United States. So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle. After many meetings, over many months, we held our final meeting last Friday at Camp David with my cabinet and generals to complete our strategy.

Whether you agree or disagree with the conclusions at which Trump and his cabinet arrived is really only tangental to the truth itself. I believe, like many, there are no good options in Afghanistan. It’s a hell hole. The Russians know it’s a hell hole, and now we know it too.

The difference between the Russians and Americans is very simple. They don’t give a rat’s behind about honoring dead soldiers and achieving an “honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices … ” When it was time for the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan, they left. They didn’t care if the Taliban ran the place after that and sold heroin around the world.

Somehow, the office changed Trump from a Russian cynic nationalist point of view, to a global security point of view. This doesn’t mean Trump is a Davos-loving trilateralist, but it does mean he can change.

There’s one silver lining from last night’s speech;  the fact that Trump attributed the change to “when you’re President of the United States.” It, to my ears, was the first time Trump expressed the thought that the office was larger than himself. It was the one arrow from his mouth he could launch that pierced “only I can fix.”

If Trump’s 1.0 incarnation was to follow his instincts, this is no longer Trump 1.0. Obviously, Trump did not write his speech. It wasn’t filled with “believe me” or “that the world has never seen” riffs, and had only one reference to “loser.” He didn’t appear to go off-script, and therefore spoke the words that place the office over the man.

That is a very big deal with a man named Donald Trump.

Looking back seven months since “American carnage” took office, the change in the man, policy-wise, has been remarkable. His only constant has been the war on the press, which I still believe Trump will win. But he’s gone from an economic protectionist, wall-building military isolationist, to a deal-making proponent of global cooperation and security.

This is not the Donald Trump that stood on the Republican National convention platform last July. The office has, in fact, changed him.

There’s hope it might continue to change him, especially with his own Marine personal life coach calling the shots in the White House.

As for the eclipse … you don’t get to see totality until it happens. It’s no different with politics. If Trump gets to a place where his potential becomes reality, good things can happen. Until then, we have to keep using glasses to filter out his damaging rays.

But even a little, tiny bit of progress is good when there’s been almost nothing but bad. (Still, is it really as bad as it would have been with Hillary?)

I’ll take the speech, I’ll take the strategy in Afghanistan”“agree or not”“and I’ll be happy with the silver lining. What other choice is there (and no, #Resist is not a choice)?


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