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What’s a ‘win’ in Afghanistan? Trump’s goal posts are movable

President Donald Trump arrives at a rally in

President Donald Trump arrives at a rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night, Aug. 22, 2017. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

The end of the tunnel

President Donald Trump pledged Tuesday night to deliver “victory” in Afghanistan. Which means what?

It includes “obliterating ISIS” and “crushing al-Qaida,” he said. But our main military enemy there is the Taliban, and after 16 years of war, even Trump isn’t predicting the demise of the Islamic fundamentalist forces who gave Osama bin Laden a haven to plot the 9/11 attacks. The goal is to prevent them “from taking over Afghanistan.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday the message to the Taliban is: “You will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one, but neither will you.” The aim is to force them “to the negotiating table and find a way to bring this to an end,” he said.

Trump, while saying a “political settlement” is “possible,” hedged: “Nobody knows if or when that will ever happen.”

Question: With the end game uncertain, what gives Trump confidence? Answer: Trump.

“I’m a problem solver. And in the end, we will win,” he said.

North Korea overture

Other remarks by Tillerson suggested a chilling out of the standoff with North Korea since Trump’s “fire and fury” warning from two weeks ago.

With no missile test launches since a UN Security Council sanctions resolution on Aug. 5, Tillerson said he was “pleased” to see Pyongyang had “demonstrated some level of restraint that we’ve not seen in the past.”

He said a path could be opening for dialogue on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program “sometime in the near future.”

The take-away: Staying the course

Though Trump tried to sell it as a new approach, his Afghanistan policy doesn’t differ radically from the one he inherited. Newsday’s Dan Janison writes that it’s the latest instance in which Trump is sticking, more or less, with the direction favored by the mainstream in both political parties.

Hot under the collar

It was a dry 103-degree heat in Phoenix when Trump took the stage for a campaign rally, but he was steamed.

Trump went on extended rants against news media coverage of his response to the Aug. 12 violence in Charlottesville, reading back his remarks in the aftermath -- but leaving out his assignment of blame “on many sides” after an alleged neo-Nazi ran over and killed a woman who came to oppose the white supremacists.

“They put on these real lightweights all around the table that nobody ever heard of and they all say what a bad guy I am,” Trump said. “The words were perfect.”

See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday. Unfortunately for the president, he had to share the media coverage with video of police pepper-spraying protesters who had hurled objects at them. Signs included "Lock him up!" and "Toxic Trump."

No jail for Joe

Trump spoke of upholding law and order — and broadly hinted he will give a pardon to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a supporter who is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of disobeying federal court orders to stop his immigration patrols.

“I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine, OK?” Trump said. “Sheriff Joe can feel good.”

Mitch fight goes ballistic

The feud between Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has gotten so bad that they are no longer on speaking terms, and their grievance lists with each other are growing, The New York Times reports.

McConnell was described as being horrified by Trump’s response to the Charlottesville violence and furious over the president’s threats to support challengers to GOP senators who have crossed him.

Trump blamed McConnell for the failure of a health care bill and complained he wasn’t protecting him in the Russia investigations. A phone call turned into a profane shouting match.

McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Trump will be able to salvage his administration, the report said.

More Charlottesville fallout

A Florida charity for children and a cancer research organization are the 16th and 17th philanthropic groups to cancel plans for fundraisers at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club since the president’s remarks about “fine people” alongside the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, The Washington Post reported.

The New York Times interviewed black Republicans who have backed Trump but say their support has been shaken by his Charlottesville response.

What else is happening:

  • Louise Linton, the actress wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, apologized for responding to a woman who criticized her on Instagram by saying, in essence: I’m rich and you’re not. Linton had bragged about the high-end fashion she wore while accompanying her husband on an official trip.
  • Vice President Mike Pence said on “Fox & Friends” that instead of tearing down monuments to Confederate figures, new ones should be built to honor civil rights heroes and others who have advanced “progress.” He said that would “tell the whole story of America.”
  • Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is touring the Middle East, seeking ways to get Israeli-Palestinian peace talks going.
  • The Justice Department has dropped its request for visitor IP addresses related to an anti-Trump website as part of an investigation into Inauguration Day rioting in Washington, The Hill reported. The web-hosting company argued the release of the requested data would have exposed 1.3 million visitors of the site.
  • Top Trump aides and GOP congressional leaders agree that individual and corporate tax rate cuts can be partly paid for by capping the mortgage interest deduction for homeowners and ending taxpayers’ deductions for state and local taxes, Politico reports. Whether such a plan would pass is uncertain.
  • Trump’s promises to coal country apparently have limits. The administration turned down coal executives who wanted him to issue an emergency order that would protect coal-fired power plants from being closed.

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