Before launching his presidential campaign in 2015, Donald Trump categorically condemned the idea of “negotiating with terrorists.” In 2012, with U.S. military leaders directly engaged in talks with the Taliban in the hopes of ending the war in Afghanistan, the New York Republican was disgusted with Barack Obama for “negotiating with our sworn enemy the Taliban – who facilitated 9/11.”
After taking office, Trump and his team, not surprisingly, negotiated with the Taliban, though the American president’s posture didn’t exactly help advance the diplomatic goals. Politico reported a month ago that the Republican’s public statements about his eagerness to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan “have weakened the hand of his negotiators by making it clear just how desperately the president wants a deal.”
The talks nevertheless proceeded, and appeared close to some kind of resolution, right up until Saturday night, when the world learned of some unexpected news by way of Trump’s Twitter feed.
President Donald Trump said Saturday that he was calling off “peace negotiations” with Taliban leadership after a U.S. service member was killed in a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Trump tweeted that he was scheduled to hold a secret meeting at Camp David Sunday with Taliban leadership and, separately, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The United States has been working on a deal with the group that harbored 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden to pull troops out of Afghanistan and end the nation’s longest war.
The Twitter thread, on its face, was a little strange. The American president said he’d arranged for a secret trip, bringing Afghanistan’s president and Taliban leaders to Camp David. According to Trump, however, a recent Taliban attack, which left an American servicemember dead, derailed the process. He added that he was amazed that the Taliban wouldn’t “agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks.”
There was no shortage of questions. Why was Trump negotiating with the Taliban after denouncing negotiations with the Taliban? Why would Trump bring Taliban leaders to Camp David? Why would Trump bring Taliban leaders to American soil the same week as the anniversary of 9/11?
If deadly Taliban attacks on American servicemen and women were a deal-breaker for Trump, why did his administration keep the talks going during previous Taliban murders? If Trump expected a cease-fire during the diplomatic efforts, why did Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appear on multiple Sunday shows yesterday, assuring the public that “in the last ten days,” U.S. forces have killed “over 1,000 Taliban” troops?
The New York Times had a fascinating report overnight, the details of which haven’t been independently confirmed by MSNBC or NBC News, noting that Trump, driven by a “penchant for dramatic spectacle,” personally came up with the idea of inviting Ghani and Taliban leaders to Camp David.
In a familiar dynamic, the White House’s plan “was put together on the spur of the moment and then canceled on the spur of the moment.” True to form for Team Trump, there was no real due diligence, and the “usual National Security Council process was dispensed with.”
What could possibly go wrong? Everything.