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:
Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday. They were coming to the United States tonight. Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2019
….an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations. What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they….— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2019
….only made it worse! 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. How many more decades are they willing to fight?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2019
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.