President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is running online ads claiming that he’s getting America “OUT of Endless Wars” and “will NEVER stop fighting to restore peace around the world” ― a dubious statement from a president who has deployed the largest non-nuclear bomb ever and overseen a dramatic increase in U.S. military strikes killing civilians abroad.
The ads, which are running on Facebook, are part of a broader effort by Trump and his allies to credit him with getting the U.S. out of unpopular military interventions abroad, as well as to collect contact information they can use to encourage potential supporters to vote and donate. And after decades of bellicose rhetoric from much of the right, they show how some Republicans now believe the smarter political move is to fight on anti-war terrain.
“Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, his administration has taken out two of the world’s top terrorist leaders, successfully decimated [the Islamic State], and has been committed to getting the United States OUT of Endless Wars,” reads a message the Trump campaign began promoting on Facebook on July 30. The late “top terrorist leaders” likely refers to Islamic State head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
“President Trump will NEVER stop fighting to restore peace around the world, and now he needs to know he has your support!” the ad continues. “Sign NOW to show your support for the end of ENDLESS WARS!”
The same text is used as a caption for various images, some of which include 1960s-style psychedelic graphics, peace signs and slogans like “Peace Not War” and “Support Peace.” Other graphics with photos of Trump label him “the negotiator of peace” and say he “stopped America from getting into endless wars.” The ads are being shown in multiple states, according to Facebook, including Texas and three crucial to Trump’s reelection bid ― Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Concerned Veterans for America, a group funded by the right-wing Koch network, is simultaneously running Facebook ads calling for the U.S. to withdraw from Afghanistan, which feature images and an audio recording of then-President Barack Obama talking about past troop surges. The organization is pushing an $800,000 digital and mail campaign in support of that objective, said Dan Caldwell, a senior adviser to the group. Earlier this year, they ran a $1.5 million three-month television and digital campaign in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., to boost the idea of Afghanistan withdrawal.
The messages come as Trump is personally selling himself as opposed to war and speaking more about the situation in Afghanistan. “I’ve done things that no other president has done. We should never have been in the Middle East,” he told Axios in an interview filmed July 28 and released Aug. 3.
To back up his pitch, Trump is pressuring military officials to withdraw more forces from Afghanistan, where the U.S. military has been deployed for nearly 20 years to fight insurgent forces aligned with al Qaeda after it carried out the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Trump told Axios that he wants to reduce the number of U.S. troops to 4,000, down from 8,500.
The U.S. is currently scheduled to pull out entirely by the middle of next year, according to a deal Washington signed in February with the Taliban, the dominant rebel Afghan militia. But the step-by-step drawdown envisioned in that plan is supposed to depend on the Taliban abiding by conditions like cutting ties with al Qaeda, which American officials say has not happened, and refraining from attacks on U.S.-aligned Afghans and other partner forces in the country.
The U.S. has repeatedly bombed the Taliban in response to such attacks since the February agreement, though it will not publicly acknowledge the strikes, The New York Times reported. The Pentagon declined to tell reporters this week whether plans are in motion to change troop levels.
Trump has tried to present himself as a dove on foreign policy throughout his recent political career, falsely saying during his run for the presidency that he had opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and thereby suggesting that he was different from other politicians associated with America’s traditionally assertive posture abroad, including leaders in his own historically hawkish Republican Party.
In truth, the president has given the military more flexibility to launch strikes in Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Syria, which have killed historic numbers of civilians. He has suggested that he could end the Afghan war by brutally killing millions of people, undermined accountability for war crimes by pardoning former soldiers, and blocked efforts to end American policies like support for a brutal Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.
Trump’s approach to global affairs has been an object lesson in how encouraging world peace requires more than reductions in troop deployments. By squeezing Iran while rejecting international diplomacy around its nuclear program, he has repeatedly risked dramatic conflicts between Washington and Tehran, most recently after the U.S. assassination of Soleimani. In condemning global human rights standards and U.S. commitments to international partners, he has made it easier for repressive leaders like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and China’s Xi Jinping to crack down on marginalized communities ― respectively, the Syrian Kurds who helped the U.S. fight ISIS and the Uighur Muslims who have been corralled into internment camps.
And in explicitly tying American military support to financial payments ― pulling soldiers from Germany based on his false claim that Berlin owes money to the NATO military alliance and justifying a military alliance with the Saudis by citing their planned purchases of weapons ― Trump has propagated a vision not of a peaceful world but of one in which the most powerful army is for sale.
The combination in the U.S. of public frustration with the long-running wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and low general awareness about global affairs enables Trump to obscure and misrepresent his record to voters ― and to appear to be addressing concerns that are most frequently raised by progressives who oppose him. Liberals have responded in different, sometimes conflicting ways, with some like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) saying Trump too often risks wars while more moderate Democrats have repeatedly aligned with some Republicans to describe him as insufficiently forceful abroad.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has also pledged to end the “forever” war in Afghanistan and to bring home the “vast majority” of U.S. troops there.
Trump’s political team appears freshly convinced that presenting him as opposed to military interventions helps him with voters, said Caldwell, whose group is not permitted to coordinate with the Trump campaign and wants withdrawal from Afghanistan whether Trump or Biden wins in November.
“I have no insight into what the Trump campaign is seeing on their end,” Caldwell said, “but it wouldn’t surprise me if their polling and the response they’re getting online around this issue is just as positive as the response we’ve been getting.”