President Donald Trump is considering nominating Will Ruger, a Koch-affiliated foreign policy expert who wants to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan, to be the U.S. ambassador to that war-torn country, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.
Ruger has been interviewed several times in the last few weeks by officials in the Presidential Personnel Office, and also interviewed at the State Department with counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl a few weeks ago, according to the person. He has passed most of a background check and gone through an ethics review. Ruger has not been formally selected by Trump, and there are other candidates for the position, however, according to two people familiar with the matter.
A White House spokesperson had no comment. Ruger declined to comment.
Ruger, a Naval Reserve officer who served a year in Afghanistan a decade ago, is aligned with the president’s thinking about the U.S. footprint in the Middle East and the wars in Afghanistan and Syria, and has been especially vocal about getting out of Afghanistan.
“President Trump has correctly concluded that a full and speedy withdrawal of our troops is imperative,” he wrote in the American Interest in late May. “Our national interest isn’t served by continuing to wage a futile battle but by exiting it.”
While a number of former senior military officials have urged Trump to keep a residual force in Afghanistan, Ruger, who supports the peace process led by Zalmay Khalilzad, wrote that the “establishment elites have failed to tell us how staying is going to accomplish much more than wasting additional American blood and treasure.”
He also said that in the op-ed that the only American interest in Afghanistan is to prevent a future terrorist attack against the U.S. from originating in the country but that can be done using intelligence capabilities and out-of-country American military assets to spot threats.
Ruger, who also is vice president for research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute and a former professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, has argued the U.S. shouldn’t stay in Afghanistan until there is a formal peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Ruger has written op-eds for conservative publications like the Washington Examiner supporting Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria, a decision that was widely criticized by both Republicans and Democrats.
The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan currently doesn’t have an ambassador, but instead is led by veteran State Department diplomat Ross Wilson as chargé d’affaires.
Given that it’s mid-July in the last year of a presidential term, it’s unclear if Ruger, if nominated, would have time to get confirmed by the Senate prior to the election although the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is moving forward with several nominees next week.
Nor is it clear, in any case, how much power a new ambassador might have to shape events in Kabul. Under the terms of the preliminary peace deal announced in February, the U.S agreed to withdraw its troops if the Taliban refrained from attacking American forces and rejected al Qaeda and ISIS. But violence against the Afghan government has escalated in the months since, and Khalilzad has struggled to salvage the arrangement.