President Trump took to Twitter this morning to snipe at Rep. Liz Cheney, who has risen high in the ranks of the GOP House caucus. The daughter of former VP Dick Cheney, her foreign policy views have routinely not lined up with Trump. That’s led to a series of recent clashes inside the Republican conference. Cheney has also jumped the gun in some instances, such as spreading what was later shown to be a false story that Trump ignored evidence of Russian bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The President had apparently heard enough.
Liz Cheney is only upset because I have been actively getting our great and beautiful Country out of the ridiculous and costly Endless Wars. I am also making our so-called allies pay tens of billions of dollars in delinquent military costs. They must, at least, treat us fairly!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2020
Trump is certainly never diplomatic, but is he wrong here? The knee jerk reaction among most of the conservative commentariat is to decry Trump anytime he criticizes a member of the party’s establishment. Yet, I’m struggling to find fault here, perhaps because there is none.
We’ve now been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years. If an insurgency can not be defeated in nearly a quarter century, you are not going to defeat said insurgency, at least in so far as we are talking about a country that’s not our own. Russia learned this lesson. We even learned this lesson in past wars. But many, including Cheney, don’t grasp that, as they are still stumping to stay in Afghanistan based on vague generalities.
The threats, often only described as having to “defeat” the Taliban or “contain” Al Qaeda offer no end goal, nor any attainable objective. The Taliban are not going to cease existing, nor will you ever fully defeat radical Islamism. At this point, neither group has shown themselves to be a threat to the homeland in many years, and there is no reason to believe that will change if we simply go to a surveillance and drone war given the extent of modern technology.
Here’s how The Hill described the current dust-up.
Cheney, who is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has been outspoken about her opposition to Trump’s plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany and Afghanistan. She has also defended Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a key official working on the response to the coronavirus pandemic, after he faced stunning public criticism from some inside the White House.
Meanwhile, Rich Lowry of National Review wrote a defense of Cheney against Trump in Politico. Here’s what he had to say.
She rightly refuses to play by the dumb rule insisted on by MAGA and Never-Trump Republicans from their respective parts of the spectrum, that the only two options are to submit to the president totally or to oppose him totally, with no honorable space in between.
Cheney is a Republican and a member of leadership, which imposes its obligations, but she hasn’t checked her mind or conscience at the door.
She has deeply held views on foreign policy and doesn’t hide them, even when they depart from those of the president.
You know what’s missing here? Any actual defense of Cheney’s position. Wouldn’t that be paramount if we are going to argue that she’s correct to hold her ground in this instance? Why exactly should we stay in Afghanistan at this point? What strategic goal is being met that can be met no other way? How many lives and how much money is too much of an investment? What does the end game look like? Cheney never answers those questions, nor does Lowry demand she do so.
Further, Lowry’s insistence on painting those who agree with Trump as simply doing so out of political loyalty is misguided. Most Republicans, including regular voters, do not support the war in Afghanistan at this point. That was true before Trump came down the escalator in 2015. Cheney is not out of step with Trump. She’s out of step with her party and the majority of Americans.
Regardless, I suspect this will blow over. But the insurgent game Cheney is playing to keep American forces in Afghanistan with no articulated path forward is far more serious than the political sniping. She should be made to support her position, not just be allowed to fall back on old tropes that were out of style while her father was still in office.