0413 trump flip flop photo illustration
Trump appears to flip-flop on China, Russia
02:33 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

The strike is the first time the MOAB bomb has been deployed

Trump may be taking a more aggressive approach to rooting out ISIS

CNN  — 

President Trump spent much of the last week reversing positions he staked out either during the 2016 campaign or in the early months of his presidency. On Thursday, he did something actually consistent with what he promised on the campaign trail: He authorized the dropping of a MOAB bomb on a suspected ISIS camp in Afghanistan.

The strike, which was first reported by CNN’s Barbara Starr, is the first time the MOAB bomb has been deployed – despite the fact that it was developed in the early 2000s for the Iraq war.

The decision to use it could signal that Trump will take a more aggressive – or, at the least, more high profile – approach to rooting out ISIS than his predecessor President Barack Obama did.

Which is, essentially, what Trump promised in the campaign. He used Obama’s unwillingness to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” as a way to argue that the 44th president wasn’t willing to do what needed to be done to handle the threat posed by ISIS and other groups like it.

“We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism, just as we have defeated every threat we have faced in every age before,” Trump promised in a speech on terrorism in August 2016. He added:

“But we will not defeat it with closed eyes, or silenced voices.

Anyone who cannot name our enemy, is not fit to lead this country. Anyone who cannot condemn the hatred, oppression and violence of Radical Islam lacks the moral clarity to serve as our President.”

He was not always so eloquent, but the message – we need to be much tougher on ISIS – never changed. In a much-covered speech in Iowa in November 2015, Trump ripped of this famous/infamous riff:

“I would bomb the s**t out of them. I’d just bomb those suckers. I’d blow up the pipes, I’d blow up the refineries, I’d blow up every single inch—there would be nothing left.”

Democrats rolled their eyes, insisting that a pledge to bomb difficult-to-track terror cells in remote locations in Afghanistan and Pakistan didn’t amount to a policy of any sort. (And, to be clear, Trump was talking about the ISIS threat in Iraq and Syria, not in Afghanistan.)

And yet, Republicans responded. Trump’s muscular pledge to reassert the idea of America as the biggest and toughest country in the world, a place that makes promises and keeps them, appealed to a broad swath of people. Trump capitalized on the anxiety regarding what America’s role was and should be in the world, and cast himself as someone who would bring back the good old days of American might.

For people who voted for him on that basis, today’s strike will be a vindication of their hope that Trump represents a clear break from the policies of then President Obama.

It may also have a reassuring effect for that same group – many of whom had begun to question Trump’s commitment to the worldview he ran on during the 2016 campaign. Last week, Trump was pilloried by some of the groups who supported him most strongly during the campaign after he authorized a targeted missile strike on a Syrian airbase following a chemical attack which originated from there. (In the campaign, Trump had insisted America needed to stay out of Syria’s business.) He also seemed to take a tougher tone toward Russia and a more friendly tone toward China over the last week than he had in the campaign.

Unpredictability is at the cornerstone of how Trump defines success. “Keep them guessing” is the Trump foreign policy in a nutshell.

After a week of reversing previous positions, Trump kept to one in regard ISIS. Now the question is what he does tomorrow. And a week from now. And a month from now.