During the presidential primaries and general election, there was no doubt where Donald Trump stood on the war in Iraq.
"A big, fat mistake," Trump said of the Iraq invasion at a GOP debate in South Carolina in February 2016. "We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East."
Trump said similar things many other times in the campaign -- even after he didn't have Jeb Bush, who was standing next to him that night in South Carolina, to kick around any more. Trump also made more general statements suggesting skepticism toward U.S. intervention in world hot spots.
But what about Afghanistan, the war whose future course Trump will announce in a nationally-televised address Monday night? It appears Trump entered the White House with no clearly defined position on the war, except that he thought it had gone on too long. The question is whether he has a more detailed position now.
There was remarkably little discussion of Afghanistan in the Republican primary debates, and Trump, even though he was a dominant presence in virtually all of them, did not take part in what discussion there was. The same was true of the three general election debates with Hillary Clinton -- there just wasn't much talk about Afghanistan.
Trump made a few -- not many -- statements about Afghanistan before he ran for president. The most widely quoted is a tweet from November 21, 2013 in which Trump said: "We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let's get out!"
In the campaign, though, Trump did not stick to that view. In his most extensive statement on the issue, a CNN interview on October 20, 2015, Trump distinguished between Afghanistan and his critique of Iraq.
"I've never said we made a mistake going into Afghanistan," Trump said. "Do I love it? No. Do I love anything about it? No. I like -- I think it's important that we, number one, keep a presence there and ideally a presence of pretty much what they're talking about, 5,000 soldiers." Trump repeatedly stressed that Afghanistan's proximity to nuclear-armed Pakistan made an American force necessary.
A couple of weeks earlier, in another interview with CNN, Trump said, "I would leave the troops there begrudgingly. I'm not happy about it, I will tell you, but I would leave the troops there begrudgingly."
Beyond that, it appears neither Trump nor his advisers thought very deeply about Afghanistan. In a conversation Sunday, Walid Phares, who served on Trump's short-lived foreign policy advisory council, said there was virtually no discussion of Afghanistan among the group.
"In general terms, Afghanistan was not mentioned much in the campaign, including, if you recall, in his foreign policy speeches," Phares said.
To the degree that Trump considered Afghanistan, it appears he adopted views that were common in the foreign policy and national security worlds. "I didn't hear much more than the traditional discussion," said Phares. "Should we shrink the force to the minimum possible to do counterterrorism, or should we do a surge? It wasn't anything different from the last ten years."
Now, as president, Trump has led an extensive discussion on the next steps in Afghanistan. "I am very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Sunday.
Even though he had no clear position as a candidate, it's unclear whether President Trump will just go along with military experts. The one thing Trump is profoundly aware of, according to those who have discussed the issue with him in recent weeks, is that the United States has been at war without winning for 16 years in Afghanistan. He asks the question: Why are we still there? And how could any president justify doing more of the same?
As he has with NATO and other foreign policy questions, Trump also searches for ways that other nations might bear more of the burden currently borne by the United States.
One of the advisers Trump has listened to in the Afghanistan deliberations might be a surprise to those not paying close attention to the issue. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has played a role in the talks not just as a member of the National Security Council but also as a counterweight to more interventionist advice.
It's not as if Sessions has gone full-tilt non-interventionist, but friends describe an evolution in his thinking from Senate days in 2002 when Sessions was said to be "gung ho" on the Afghan war. Now, he is said to be more skeptical about the possibility of success in Afghanistan. He is said to suspect that the American engagement there has stretched to 16 years not because the U.S. has repeatedly failed to find the right strategy but because the task of leaving a peaceful, stable, and sustainable democracy in Afghanistan might simply be an impossible job at the moment.
One way Trump could satisfy all sides in the debate would be to loosen the Obama-era rules of engagement in Afghanistan that critics contend have "tied the hands" of U.S. forces. By loosening the legal restrictions on the circumstances under which Americans can attack Taliban forces and facilities, Trump could wage war more effectively with the same number of troops, or with a slightly increased number.
Two months ago, Trump gave Mattis the authority to send as many as 4,000 more troops to join the more than 8,000 U.S. troops already in Afghanistan. The decision he announces Monday night might lead to even more. On Sunday, Mattis told reporters that the plan will cover more than just troop levels and will be a broader blueprint for action in the region. "It is a South Asia strategy," Mattis said. "It is not an Afghanistan strategy."
Any decision to send more troops would bring up another point Trump made repeatedly during the campaign. If he sends the U.S. military into action, Trump pledged in many speeches, they won't be on a timetable. He won't announce to the world -- as Barack Obama did -- when they would be coming home. Doing so would just allow the enemy to wait the U.S. out, Trump said.
Now, for President Trump, sending troops and keeping that promise would mean an open-ended commitment of U.S. forces.
But if Trump does send more troops, the toughest questions to answer will still be his own. After all these years, why are we still in Afghanistan? And is there some reason to believe doing more of the same will finally work?