Since Trump’s rather dramatic tweet announcing the end of negotiations with the Taliban on Sunday we have learned a little more about what went wrong.
And what went wrong it that Donald Trump was involved.
What we have learned is that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his team had been working hard on a deal with the Taliban to bring home troops and patch together a cease-fire agreement that would be amenable to both sides.
National Security advisor John Bolton (Who was fired jsut today.) was not a fan of the plan and openly worked to undermine it with a more hawkish one of his own that did not include making a deal with the Taliban.
When the plans were presented to Trump he saw a golden opportunity.
Courtesy of NYT:
Mr. Trump made no decision on the spot, but at some point during the meeting the idea was floated to finalize the negotiations in Washington, a prospect that appealed to the president’s penchant for dramatic spectacle. Mr. Trump suggested that he would even invite President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, whose government has not been party to the talks, and get him to sign on.
In the days that followed, Mr. Trump came up with an even more remarkable idea — he would not only bring the Taliban to Washington, but to Camp David, the crown jewel of the American presidency. The leaders of a rugged militant organization deemed terrorists by the United States would be hosted in the mountain getaway used for presidents, prime ministers and kings just three days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that led to the Afghan war.
Thus began an extraordinary few days of ad hoc diplomatic wrangling that upended the talks in a weekend Twitter storm. On display were all of the characteristic traits of the Trump presidency — the yearning ambition for the grand prize, the endless quest to achieve what no other president has achieved, the willingness to defy convention, the volatile mood swings and the tribal infighting.
What would have been one of the biggest headline-grabbing moments of his tenure was put together on the spur of the moment and then canceled on the spur of the moment. The usual National Security Council process was dispensed with; only a small circle of advisers was even clued in.
Donald Trump’s seething jealousy of President Obama is well known, and one of the things that he resents the most is Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.
What Trump wanted was a made for TV moment that could be used to push for his own Nobel Peace Prize nomination as well as campaign ads for the upcoming election.
When it became clear that Trump could not get a clean version of that due to American deaths in Afghanistan and continued fighting in that region, he did not quietly step aside to allow the negotiations to continue in secret, he blew up the entire deal with a tweet.
Essentially if he could not get the credit for the deal he did not want the deal to happen.
Oddly enough the Taliban actually think they already have a deal.
Courtesy of German news outlet DW:
DW: Have you been contacted by US officials since Trump’s decision to end talks? Did they officially explain to you why the deal was called off?
Taliban spokesperson: We have so far not received any official explanation. But we are trying to get more information about it. At the moment, the only information we have is Mr. Trump’s tweets.
DW: Are you still ready to restart negotiations and reach an agreement with the US to end the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan? Are you willing to show some flexibility?
Taliban spokesperson: We are still committed to the deal. In our view, the deal is finalized. The US negotiating team also finalized it. But we have no control over Washington’s decisions.
According to this spokesperson there has been no official word that the deal is dead, aside from Trump’s tweet:
Khalilzad and General Scott Miller, commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, also met with Mullah Ghani Berader, the head of the Taliban’s Qatar office. All this while, there were no signs that the US would call off negotiations. The US president’s tweets took us by surprise.
We still don’t understand how the US can call off the deal that took months to negotiate and finalize. This move has undermined the US’ credibility.
What seems to be quite clear is that Trump has no real interest in ending the conflict in Afghanistan, what he wants is a photo op that he can use to distract from the talk of impeachment and the multiple investigations being launched against his administration and businesses.
And if he could also get a nice little peace prize out of the deal, well that is just icing on his cake.
However everything with Trump is transactional so if there is nothing in it for him, there is simply no reason to move forward in his opinion.