Donald Trump stumbled into what looks like another PR debacle late Saturday when the US president announced, on Twitter, that he planned to convene clandestine talks with the Taliban at Camp David.
“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”, Trump said, adding that the Taliban was “coming to the United States tonight”.
The tweets served as a rather stark reminder that we have truly transcended satire in the Trump era. The president’s remarks on Saturday evening could have easily served as a spoof headline for a satirical take on what it would be like if Donald Trump were commander in chief. Something like: “Taliban flying to US for Camp David visit on invite from White House, President Trump randomly tweets”.
That is now our reality.
Trump went on to explain that he was sadly compelled to cancel the invitation because – wouldn’t you know it – the Taliban was responsible for a car bombing in Kabul that killed a dozen people, including an American soldier on Thursday. The solider, Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, was the fourth American service member killed in Afghanistan in the past two weeks.
“Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people”, Trump tweeted. “I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations”, he continued, on the way to asking “What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?”
That’s an absurd question. This is, after all, the Taliban we’re talking about, and besides, Trump is supposed to be the world’s foremost authority on driving a hard bargain when it comes to making “deals”. Suffice to say the Taliban drives a hard bargain.
The group controls more territory now than at any other time since the war began, and has ramped up activities recently, even as a tenuous draft truce took shape. The fresh violence has been “particularly unhelpful” in the peace process, US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, said in Pakistan on Saturday.
According to a New York Times analysis published a year ago (almost to the day), “American officials routinely issue inflated assessments of progress that contradict what is actually happening in Afghanistan”.
(As of May 15, 2018 by NYT utilizing Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction [US government data]; FDD’s The Long War Journal [analysts’ data])
An incredulous Trump went on to wonder how long the war can possibly persist. “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”, he said, before asking his Twitter followers “How many more decades are they willing to fight?”
The answer, of course, is “forever”. The Taliban is willing to fight forever, which is kind of the whole point, and goes a long way towards explaining why US forces are still embroiled in the quagmire, despite Trump’s efforts to pitch ongoing American involvement in the conflict as some kind of mystery.
Unfortunately for the White House, the hashtag #TalibanTrump was trending on Twitter Sunday.
Netizens have been keen to remind the president that his former self was very critical of efforts to negotiate with the Taliban…