There are still almost two years until the 2024 presidential elections, but the campaigns are already underway. President Joe Biden is expected to announce his re-election plans soon, and the field of Republicans seeking to unseat him is starting to gather.
Former President Donald Trump jumped in the race, waiting just a week after his party’s lackluster midterm showing before announcing his intention to run again. While he is the only Republican to officially announce, others appear to be jumping in soon: Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who later served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, is likely to announce her own candidacy next week.
Politically reports that Trump, to differentiate himself from potential candidates like Haley or former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, will run as an “anti-war dove among hawks.” But while a strong push in the anti-war direction would be welcome for the party, Trump’s record casts doubt on his seriousness.
Trump’s reflexive opposition to foreign entanglements was part of his appeal during his 2016 candidacy. In a Republican debate ahead of the South Carolina primary that year, Trump called the Iraq war “a big, fat mistake” and said of its instigators: “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There weren’t, and they knew there were none.”
Last week, Sen. JD Vance (R–Ohio) received early support, throwing himself into Trump’s position on the grounds that in his first term he “didn’t start wars despite enormous pressure from his own party and even from members of his own administration.” In early 2016, while Vance was a private citizen opposing Trump, he similarly wrote in The New York Times that Trump’s message resonated with white working-class voters because “he’s telling them what no mainstream Republican politician has said in a decade — that [Iraq War] was a terrible mistake foisted on the country by an incompetent president.” A 2017 study would conclude that Trump’s anti-interventionist rhetoric was key to his victory over Hillary Clinton.
But Trump’s record after he was elected did not reflect the promise of a more restrained foreign policy. Just days into his administration, Trump gave the green light to a military operation in Yemen that yielded no valuable intelligence but led to the death of Navy Seal Ryan Owens. When pressed about the failure, he blamed his military advisers, shrugging that they “lost Ryan.” A few weeks later, he launched 59 missiles at Syria after the country’s government targeted its civilians with chemical weapons.
Despite promising to bring the troops home, Trump has not ended any wars in his four years in office. He loosened restrictions on drone strikes, leading to a huge increase in alleged civilian casualties. And in January 2020, he approved the assassination of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani. While the administration initially claimed the strike was necessary to prevent an imminent strike that would have risked “hundreds” of American lives, it later emerged that Trump had been mulling the order for months.
Iran responded by firing rockets at a US air base in Iraq, injuring more than 100 US soldiers, and Iranian-trained militias launched rockets at a US military base in Iraq, killing more soldiers. And yet, when Congress passed a resolution restricting the president from further military action against Iran without congressional approval, Trump vetoed it.
In fairness, Trump began the process of ending the war in Afghanistan by signing the Doha Agreement in February 2020. But that agreement, which called for a gradual withdrawal of troops over more than a year, did not come until the end of Trump’s first term, while he was running for re-election. . And it came only after sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan in 2017.
As the 2024 campaign season heats up, an anti-war contingent in the Republican Party that extends beyond just helping Ukraine would be a huge boon. Unfortunately, if the party’s latest standard-bearer is any indication, that momentum will be lacking among the candidates.