Trump’s U-Turn in Afghan Talks
Terry H. Schwadron
Nov. 30, 2019
Apparently, the deal maker got loose again, squirreling with the outstanding evidence.
Just because he had walked away from a deal with the Taliban three months ago, on the eve of a Camp David settlement meeting, I guess we should now find it reasonable that Donald Trump should announce that we are moving to right that failure — by announcing needed agreements already rejected by the other side.
We’re used to Trump being a blow-hard, but hearing and reading that he was forming new strategy on the fly in Afghanistan seemed a bit over the top.
Three months ago, a months-long series of quiet negotiations with a team from the Taliban in Afghanistan were shoved over the cliff, mostly because there had been an attack just that week in which an American was killed. Now, Trump was in Afghanistan on a secret presidential trip to greet troops and feed them Thanksgiving Day meals, a nice gesture indeed.
He met with the Afghan leader at the same time, and announced in a surprise to all that the talks with the Taliban were officially back on. It was a surprise to the Taliban, as well as American citizens, apparently.
But now, the deal would be contingent on the Taliban laying down its guns. That is a non-starter for the Taliban — as it was three months ago.
But the Afghan president, Ashran Ghani, needs that statement to help settle Afghanistan’s torn elections, in which he stands accused of rigging votes to stay in office.
As we last left the negotiations with the Taliban, the United States was about to agree to a proposed peace announcement in which a cease-fire was not even mentioned — instead, it focused on an American troop withdrawal from an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 troops to zero in return for the promise of reduced violence from the Taliban.
Reduced violence is not a cease-fire, which the Taliban’s team said could arise as a subject with the existing Afghan government later. Oh yes, the Afghan government was not represented at the negotiating table between Americans and Taliban representatives.
At best here, we have a delicate, moving, unstable negotiation, broken off by Americans, with some serious begging by the Afghans hoping Americans will stay rather than go. Into this delicate situation comes Trump the china-busting bull.
Trump’s words says we want negotiation, Trump’s terms said we don’t. Indeed, Trump said he’d like to think the Taliban wants a cease-fire, but if they don’t, no deal is to be had.
“They didn’t want to do a cease-fire, but now they do want to do a cease-fire, I believe,” Trump said. “And it will probably work out that way. And we’ll see what happens.”
The main question here is — What was Trump thinking?
For Trump, the prime incentive is to bring home U.S. troops, and there has been some troop reduction over three months with no deal in place.
For the Taliban, there is the dictate of patience and the continuing effects of terrorist attacks on the Afghan government, its representatives, and citizens at random. For the Afghan government, it has been to resolve its elections, to seal off whole portions of the country, and to hope for selected military advances against the Taliban, of which there have been several, but the victories are scattered and less than effective.
Still, Trump had to talk the U.S. troops of “winning” an 18-year war of no objective.
As The New York Times reported, “Western diplomats and Taliban leaders were scrambling to figure out whether Trump had suddenly moved the goal posts for negotiations. They were particularly confused by his remarks, made during an unannounced Thanksgiving visit to Afghanistan, that the United States was once again meeting with the Taliban to discuss a deal, but that “we’re saying it has to be a cease-fire.”
Demanding a cease-fire would amount to a big shift in the American position and require a significant new concession from the Taliban — one that the Americans have little leverage to extract, reported The Times.
Trump’s latest interjection in what The Times termed a tedious diplomatic balancing act will once again have his negotiators scrambling to try to pull off what many Western officials have described as an unrealistic goal.
Stack it up next to Mexico paying for the border wall, a near-total failure with North Korean nuclear aims, a growing crisis with Iran, a widening mess in the Middle East, the spread of hunger and homelessness in our own hemisphere, a disdainful demand to abuse powers in the Ukraine for personal gain — and the constant announcements from the White House about the prowess of Trump as a world leader.
So, this is our leader — a man proved super-resistant to fact, to professional G advice, to anything but his own reelection and self-loving.
Maybe Trump should send Rudy Giuliani to Afghanistan,