Donald Trump spent Thanksgiving with the troops.
That’s not a joke. He really did.
In a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Thursday, Trump served meals to soldiers and delivered a pep talk of sorts, during which the president announced he’s restarted peace talks with the Taliban. “The Taliban wants to make a deal. We’ll see if they want to make a deal”, he explained. “It’s gotta be a real deal. We’ll see.”
He continued. “This is some airfield. Some fortress”, Trump ventured, in a hapless attempt to talk up Bagram, where he arrived at 8:30 PM local time. “I want to thank – uh – all of the Afghan-in-stanian troops, really”, he stammered. “We have a lot of ’em here actually”.
Later, while seated with Ashraf Ghani, Trump reiterated that the Taliban “wants to make a deal” and said US officials are “meeting with them”. “We’re saying it has to be a ceasefire. They didn’t want to do a ceasefire and now they want to do a ceasefire”, Trump said. “I believe it’ll probably work out that way”.
In September, Trump invited the Taliban to Camp David on the anniversary of 9/11, optics be damned. That comically ill-conceived idea went awry in spectacular fashion when Trump shocked America by tweeting that “Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders… were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David”. Perhaps realizing that what he had tweeted sounded so surreal that people might not believe it, Trump added: “[They were] coming to the United States tonight”.
Ultimately, Trump called off the meeting after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a car bombing in Kabul that killed a dozen people, including an American soldier. But the tweets served as a rather stark reminder that we have truly transcended satire in the Trump era. The president’s remarks that Saturday evening in September 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”.
For his trouble, Trump earned the nickname #TalibanTrump on Twitter, where hecklers were quick to remind the president that his private citizen self doesn’t like presidents who negotiate with the Taliban.
Fast forward ten weeks (give or take) and the US is apparently prepared to restart the negotiations as part of the president’s efforts to wind down the US troop presence in the country and end America’s longest-running conflict.
At the same time, Trump declared that “We’re going to stay until we have a deal, or we have total victory”. Previously, the president has suggested that “total victory” in Afghanistan (or Syria or anywhere else for that matter) is not a prerequisite for pulling US troops out of combat zones.
Trump has struggled to make good on his campaign promise to stop what he calls “endless wars”. The effort to extricate American special operators from Syria precipitated a massacre last month, when the removal of a few dozen US troops from key border positions allowed the Turkish military to launch a long-planned cross-border incursion targeting America’s Kurdish allies. Hundreds were killed and some 200,000 were displaced in the ensuing melee.
The surprise visit to Afghanistan was also set against the controversy surrounding the ouster of Richard Spencer, who penned a scathing Op-Ed for The Washington Post on Wednesday.
Trump was joined by General Mark Milley, Mick Mulvaney and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien. The trio served turkey, ham, mac and cheese and mashed potatoes.
“I had a bit of mashed potatoes and I never got to my turkey”, Trump told soldiers at the rally. “I should have started with that. Not the mashed potatoes. I made a mistake”.