foreign policy

Will Trump Upend U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan on His Way Out?

An Afghan soldier stands guard at an American base in Nangarhar province, which has been handed over to Afghan border forces. Photo: Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, the newly installed Pentagon chief, has hired a senior adviser who may bring President Trump’s wish for an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan to fruition before his own moving day on January 20.

The recruitment of retired Army colonel Douglas Macgregor, first reported by Axios on Wednesday, is the latest in a flurry of changes at the Department of Defense this week, starting with the president firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper by tweet and subsequently removing a number of other senior civilian officials, replacing them with controversial figures seen as Trump loyalists. (The Pentagon’s policy chief is now a former Fox News contributor who once called Barack Obama a “terrorist leader.” A 34-year-old is now the top intelligence official of a department with a $738 billion budget.)

Macgregor’s installment is arguably the first sign of potentially serious consequences that Trump could affect in the interim period — a step up from what appeared to be last-ditch attempts at screwing with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition and settling old scores within the administration. A Pentagon spokesman told Axios that Macgregor, a decorated combat soldier who appears often on Fox News, brings “decades of military experience” that “will be used to assist in the continued implementation of the president’s national security priorities.” While it’s not yet clear what Macgregor will actually attempt to do in his new position, the Trump loyalist has previously advocated for speeding up the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan — something the president campaigned on in 2016 and has continued to pursue over the course of his term.

Reportedly frustrated with the current pace of troop withdrawal from the sites of American forever wars, Trump has told not only advisers but all of Twitter that he wants to bring forces home from Afghanistan by Christmas. Such a premature drawdown would fly in the face of advice from his senior military officials, who have “long stressed that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is conditions based, with those conditions including the Taliban’s breaking its ties to Al Qaeda and making progress in peace talks with the Afghan government,” according to CNN.

In a likely return to the foreign policy of his old boss, Biden is expected to shift much of Trump’s approach in the Middle East as well, including his erratic stance on troop withdrawal from Syria and Iraq. The president-elect is also unlikely to maintain Trump’s warm relationship with autocrats like Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who seized power in a military coup against the country’s first democratically elected president and whom Trump once called “my favorite dictator.”

Trump May Upend U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan on His Way Out