Trump Says He Called Off Secret Camp David Meetings With Taliban

President Trump announced late yesterday that he had called off secret meetings with the Taliban. The fact that they were even going to happen reveals yet again what's wrong with his foreign policy.

Late yesterday, President Trump announced on Twitter that he had called off what were going to be secret meetings between the United States, representatives of the Afghan government, and representatives of the Taliban at Camp David but that he called them off after the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack that killed an American serviceman:

WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Saturday that he had canceled a secret meeting at Camp David with Taliban leaders and the president of Afghanistan and was calling off monthslong negotiations that had appeared to be nearing a peace agreement.

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone,” Mr. Trump wrote in a series of tweets, Taliban leaders and the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, were headed to the United States on Saturday for what would have been a politically fraught meeting at the president’s official Camp David retreat in Maryland.

But Mr. Trump said that “in order to build false leverage,” the Taliban had admitted to a suicide car bomb attack on Thursday that had killed an American soldier and 11 others in the capital of Kabul. “I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations,” he wrote.

“If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway,” Mr. Trump added. “How many more decades are they willing to fight?”

The president’s announcement was startling for multiple reasons. A surprise summit at Camp David with leaders of an insurgent group that has killed thousands of Americans since the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan would have been a sensational diplomatic gambit, on par with Mr. Trump’s meetings with the once-reclusive North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. A senior administration official said the meeting had been planned for Monday, just two days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which were plotted from Afghanistan and led to the United States’ invasion of the country.

Mr. Trump’s statement also appears to scuttle — for now — his longstanding hope to deliver on a campaign promise to withdraw American troops from an 18-year conflict that he has called an aimless boondoggle.

It comes amid stubborn resistance within Afghanistan’s government about the peace agreement that had been under discussion, not only for security reasons but also because Mr. Ghani has been determined to preserve a planned Sept. 28 election, which he is favored to win. The Taliban have insisted on postponing the election before proceeding with negotiations with the Afghan government.

Several people familiar with the diplomacy between the Trump administration and the Taliban puzzled over Mr. Trump’s stated decision to cancel peace negotiations entirely in response to one American casualty, however tragic. The Taliban had not agreed to halt their attacks on Americans in advance of a formal agreement. That raised the question of whether Mr. Trump might have been looking for a pretext because the talks had run into trouble.

The development is sure to inflame a Washington political debate about the talks that until now had largely played out in national security circles to little public fanfare. Mr. Trump had been coming under growing pressure from conservatives not to hastily exit the country while many leading Democrats have said they support peace talks leading to an American withdrawal.

Here are the President’s tweets:

Writing for The New York Times, Mujib Mashal reports that the real reasons behind the cancellation of the talks go far deeper than the President claims:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Even as President Trump blamed a recent Taliban attack for his decision to call off nearly year-long negotiations with the insurgents, officials suggested on Sunday it had more to do with the Taliban’s resistance to the American terms for a peace deal.

Talks that once seemed on the verge of a breakthrough had hit a wall over how the deal should be finalized and announced, they said.

With the president himself showing more engagement in the talks in recent weeks, the Trump administration had set in motion a daring gambit: Fly the insurgents’ leaders and the Afghan leader, Ashraf Ghani, to American soil.

At Camp David, the traditional retreat of many presidents, separate meetings with each side would then lead to a grand announcement by Mr. Trump, according to Afghan, Western and Taliban officials with knowledge of the peace talks.

The Taliban leaders, however, having refused to negotiate directly with the Afghan government until after the group had an agreement with the United States, had compared the proposal to the Americans’ tricking them into political suicide. The Americans were also rushing to finalize outstanding issues, including disagreements over prisoner release, before the meeting at Camp David.

“We promised there would be intra-Afghan talks once we finalized our agreement with the Americans,” a senior Taliban leader said. “If Trump and his administration think they would solve the confrontation between the government and the Taliban somewhere in Washington in a meeting, that’s not possible because we do not recognize the stooge government.”

For his part, Mr. Ghani, a skeptic of the American negotiations that left out his government, had agreed to the risky Camp David visit in the hopes of finding a way to end a period of great uncertainty for his country.

The Afghan president was signing up for nothing less than a gamble, with the details of what might transpire at Camp David vague even to his closest circle of advisers. But stuck in a difficult position, he didn’t have much to lose, a senior official said.

After the talks were called off, the Afghan government blamed the Taliban, saying that the violence was making the peace process difficult. Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for Mr. Ghani, lashed out at the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, saying that the group had shown no commitment to peace despite having protection in the Gulf country and freedom of movement.

“The Taliban’s honeymoon in Qatar needs to be ended,” Mr. Sediqqi said.

As a preliminary matter, it’s worth saying that there isn’t anything per se wrong with negotiating with the Taliban as part of an overall strategy designed to bring American involvement in what has become its longest war to an end. That being said, the manner in which the Trump Administration was approaching these negotiations displays many of the same flaws it has demonstrated with respect to other issues around the world, such as the North Korean nuclear program. As with the North Koreans, the President was apparently prepared to jump into face-to-face talks with the Taliban and the Afghan government despite the fact that there was no final agreement on the table that the parties could agree to. Specifically, for example, the parties had not dealt with important issues that one would expect would have been resolved prior to such a meeting such as Taliban support for al Qaeda and its continued civil war against the central government in Kabul. Additionally, the Administration itself doesn’t seem to understand the symbolism and the timing that would have been involved in meeting with the Taliban at Camp David of all places just days before the 18th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

In short, while talking to the Taliban is not a bad idea, inviting them to the United States was a horrible idea from the start, especially since they still ally themselves with al Qaeda and still defend the 9/11 attacks as justified. This is even more true given the fact that there was no final agreement between the parties and virtually no chance that a face-to-face meeting would have accomplished anything other than creating a public relations disaster in which the United States would end up looking foolish and gullible on the world stage while the Taliban would have been elevated to a status equal to the elected government of Afghanistan, who is supposed to be an American ally in this fight. Given all of this, the President deserves absolutely no credit for calling off meetings that never should have been scheduled in the first place.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, National Security, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    My favorite part:

    “How many more decades are they willing to fight?”

    Well, Don, I think the answer is however many decades we’re willing to fight, plus some more.

    Classic Trump, showing off the diplomatic skill that has resulted in Iran powering up forbidden centrifuges, Kim Jong Un evidently at work on an SLBM and China going tit for tat as we gaily alienate every ally we’ve ever had.

    MAGA! So much MAGA!

    16
  2. @michael reynolds: The winning is nigh on unbearable.

  3. CSK says:

    Yeah; I’m getting bored with all this winning.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Some useful diplomacy we badly need and might manage if we had a president who was not an imbecile: we could try getting the Japanese and the South Koreans on better terms, especially if we’re going to go on looking for trouble with China. Taiwan, Japan (Okinawa) and South Korea are our front line in any confrontation with China. It’d be nice if they were getting along.

    Or we could just have Kim humiliate Trump again. That’s always fun.

  5. MarkedMan says:

    Trump may very well get some voter traction with declaring peace and yanking our troops back home. But this plan to do it is unbelievably stupid, bringing the Taliban onto American soil in secret and standing beside them on the anniversary of 9/11, no doubt shaking their hands and making disparaging remarks about past American Presidents, and generally puffing himself up.

    I don’t mean stupid in a tactical sense (although that too, as he didn’t seem to have any thought about what happens if this Hail Mary pass fails), but in a political sense. Forget about people like us and the actual media. I suspect even 15 to 20 percent of Trumper meatheads would be discomfited by it. And these are the people who literally spend their free time defending Sharpiegate.

  6. Slugger says:

    Is there actually a central organization that represents the entirety of the insurgency that is called the Taliban? It might profit Mr. Trump to watch “Charlie Wilson’s War” that shows that with a little external support the native fighters in Afghanistan can frustrate a powerful and ruthless modern military.

  7. Kathy says:

    @Slugger:

    No idea. But Ronan Farrow, in his book “The War on Peace,” talks a lot about his time in the State Department, when Richard Holbrooke really pushed for talks with the Taliban and an end to the war in Afghanistan.

    So this has been going on for a while. Holbrooke passed away in 2010..

  8. Joe says:

    And did we really call off all peace negotiations? This is one of those (myriad) instances where its impossible to glean the administration’s intentions from the President’s words. It sounds like hyperbole, but maybe he really means it. Who knows?

  9. Paine says:

    I’m guessing the political calculation here is that this move burnishes Trump’s image as a “tough negotiator” who’s willing to walk away from the negotiating table. The yokels will buy it but to the rest of us it smacks of a TV talk show host inviting a controversial guest on the show only to melodramatically kick them off the stage. Very gimmicky…

  10. David M says:

    Is there really any doubt that Trump cancelled the meeting because he couldn’t get the photo op he wanted?

  11. Kit says:

    I hear news like this and I always fear that Trump is playing Moneyball while the Left remains committed to the old style of play. A lasting peace? Solid alliances? Concern for how a message sounds abroad? Sense of honor? Those are old stats! Only suckers play that game. Today, one needs to ask: How does it play this news cycle? What does it mean on election day? Who’s left holding the bag? Can the walls of the echo chamber hold?

  12. Gustopher says:

    I’m a little relieved that there are people confirming that this was actually going to happen, and wasn’t just a figment of Trump’s imagination.

  13. al Ameda says:

    Notwithstanding the fact that Trump is always scrambling to set up some kind of major media distraction to offset his regular media mishaps ….

    Look, Trump has not negotiated an important deal since he was inaugurated and proceeded to unilaterally abrogate, break, or withdraw from every agreement that Barack Obama entered into. “Art Of The Deal”? Art of of the ghost writer.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:
    I would not entirely rule that out.

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Joe: I think that assuming that anything that Trump says has slightly less real content than an apartment for rent ad is probably the best route. He words mean nothing. At all. Ever.

    ETA: @ Gustopher: Another viable model from which to work. Thank you!

  16. charon says:

    Russians involved, unacceptable to Afghanistan and U.S. military:

    https://mobile.twitter.com/JuliaDavisNews/status/1170513749100437504

    #Russia’s state media:
    Draft peace agreement between the Taliban and the Trump admin said that U.S. forces will leave five bases in Afghanistan within 135 days of signing the document, the U.S. & the Taliban insist that Russia be present at the possible signing of the agreements.

  17. charon says:

    @charon:

    Putin’s helper still helping the patron.

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    For his part, Mr. Ghani, a skeptic of the American negotiations that left out his government,

    the United States would end up looking foolish and gullible on the world stage while the Taliban would have been elevated to a status equal to the elected government of Afghanistan, who is supposed to be an American ally in this fight.

    Ummmm, no. From the beginning this process has elevated the Taliban over our supposed allies, the elected govt of Afghanistan.

  19. gVOR08 says:

    If Trump is dumb enough to take the hit for being the President Who Lost Afghanistan, I think we should encourage him.

  20. MarkedMan says:

    Trump is a moron, but I used to give him some credit for a certain animal cunning in seeking out and taking down suckers in his various schemes. But watching him get so easily played by the likes of Kim Jong Un and the Taliban make me question even that. I suspect that in the event he was simply the beneficiary of a coincidence. For him to get any money at all from his schemes he needs a steady supply of gullible marks who see themselves as potential masters-of-the-universe and who don’t know each other, just like any other con man. But given his obvious mental deficiencies he can’t fleece his marks with the usual patter and so needs people who are absolutely certain in their hearts that Trump is a genius and that anything odd is just due to them not understanding the ways of the sophisticated business world. For most nascent con men that would narrow the field to the point where they simply can’t operate. Fortunately for him (and unfortunately for them) that perfectly describes someone who would see Trump playing a business genius on a reality TV show and accept that as all the proof they need that he is actually one in real life. After losing his father’s fortune in the loudest and most buffoonish ways possible while proclaiming that he had come out on top of everything, it was pretty much guaranteed that the only people who would see him as a star were the low information types looking to connect with a sure thing.

  21. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan: I don’t disagree, but in the case of Trump’s most adoring fans, it seems to be more that they see him as a superior being: a combination Daddy/Savior. Trump can do no wrong.

  22. Blue Galangal says:

    Trump couldn’t spell “Unbeknownst” with 4 hours, 8 dictionaries, and 3 national spelling bee champions at his disposal.

    And the Taliban is now calling him a liar. Holy cow, GOP… how much longer can you put up with this?

  23. dazedandconfused says:

    @Blue Galangal:
    The simplest Occum’s Razor explanation is our administration offered a meeting at Camp David, but there is no way Taliban leadership would risk entering the US and refused. Trump’s narcissism compels him to always be the one who turns the other guy down, and too many people knew about it so word was sure to get out.

    I find the notion that any high-ranking Talib seriously considering placing their self under the control of US personnel extremely unlikely. Moreover, in that world meetings between leaders typically only take place after everything has been agreed to. They view the method of meeting of the primary parties to haggle things out in a rush to be a fool’s game.

  24. An Interested Party says:

    Holy cow, GOP… how much longer can you put up with this?

    Well, they’ve put up with “tax cuts pay for themselves” and “Iraq had WMD” among many other stories, so they have a long history of listening to and believing lies…