Good morning, friends. How many of you followed the lead of our president, threw caution to the winds and cast your bright, burning eyes upon the heavens yesterday, eclipse goggles be damned? (If you can read this, you didn’t, and moms the world over are proud of you.)
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Today, let’s talk about Afghanistan.
What’s at stake
President Trump now has final say on the direction of a war he’s spent years criticizing, tweeting as far back as 2012 that the U.S. should just pull out of Afghanistan. But, as he said last night, “decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.” And so a troop increase of about 4,000 is coming, though Trump declined to get into numbers or tactics during his speech last night. It is a major departure from his “America First” foreign policy philosophy he outlined during the campaign.
Trump has spent months trying to hash out a plan for Afghanistan. (The Washington Post has a good behind-the-scenes breakdown of how the negotiations went: clashes between generals and nationalists like Steve Bannon, scrapped ideas to privatize the troops in Afghanistan or to, yes, leave entirely.)
In the end, Trump went with the advice of his generals, my colleague Trudy Rubin wrote this morning: a modest troop surge and a “tougher line” on Pakistan and its harboring of terrorists.
Trump is the third commander-in-chief of the war in Afghanistan, America’s longest, and area experts say the options there are increasingly dire.
Paul McHale, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense under former President George W. Bush and a former Democratic congressman from Allentown, told me Trump was right to stay mum on military specifics — we’ve revealed too much about our plans in the past. But the president also has to pressure the Taliban to the negotiation table if he hopes to end the war, McHale said, and he felt last night’s address wasn’t forceful enough: “It’s now up to the Department of Defense to communicate that message of resolve.”
And Joe Sestak, a retired two-star admiral and former Delco congressman who’s run twice for the Senate, told me Trump’s address last night was too vague — the president stressed we would win in Afghanistan, but didn’t say what “winning” might mean, or how much it might cost.
What they’re saying
“The young men and women we send to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home.” — President Trump, appearing to reference the Charlottesville tragedy (not to mention the uproar over his response to it) in his remarks last night.
“I’m pretty sure we paid more taxes toward our day ‘trip’ than you did. Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice is yours.” — Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, responding to a woman who criticized her on a since-deleted Instagram post.
“I do believe he messed up.” — House Speaker Paul Ryan, on Trump’s comments on Charlottesville last week.
In other news…
- In the wake of Charlottesville, 67 pro-Trump rallies in 36 states have been canceled, with organizers saying they wanted to “contribute to the de-escalation of rising tension and violence in America.” And a South Jersey man who ran one of the country’s biggest white supremacist music businesses shut it down after my colleague Tricia Nadolny wrote about him, saying Charlottesville had “forced me to take a long, deep look into myself.”
- By the end of September, the Secret Service will be out of money to protect the president and his large family on their extensive travels, unless Congress increases their salary and overtime cap. (It typically does.)
- The commission that monitors hate and bias incidents in Philly says they’ve seen an uptick since the election.
- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, noted beachcomber, may or may not have been fired from his radio gig.
What I’m reading
- GQ publishes a tour-de-force on Dylann Roof, the murders he committed at a historic black church in Charleston two years ago, and the radicalization of young men like him.
- Philly-area CEOs weigh in with my colleague Jane Von Bergen on whether they would have quit Trump’s business council, as leaders of many major corporations did, after Charlottesville. Most say yes.
- The Guardian argues that stories about political intrigue in the White House are distracting readers from the real issues. (The Times’ Maggie Haberman, the best in the business on that kind of reporting, hits back on Twitter: that’s how policy is crafted in this White House.)
- The Washington Post embeds with Marines on the ground in Afghanistan on the eve of Trump’s address and finds soldiers dealing with a complex, exhausting mission with no end in sight.
A non-political palate cleanser
Please enjoy this compendium of Philadelphians losing their lil minds over the eclipse: “No work is getting done,” a Benjamin Franklin interpreter told our reporters at the Franklin Institute. (We all deserve a break, I think.)