Monday, September 09, 2019


What's surprising to me about the Trump administration's Afghan negotiations is that they're apparently being conducted in an adult manner, more or less -- or at least they were until this past week:
In an interview on Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, argued that it had been clear for years that the only lasting peace would come from some kind of political process between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

He said that his idea of a successful negotiation would be one that “reduces the level of violence” and sets up an intra-Afghan dialogue.

That was the goal of the negotiations that Zalmay Khalilzad, the special envoy for Afghanistan, had been painstakingly negotiating in Doha, Qatar, for nearly a year, and seemed on the verge of achieving. On Thursday, Mr. Khalilzad was in Doha again with Gen. Austin Miller, the commander of the United States forces in Afghanistan, who has also said that he believes the battle between the Afghan government and the Taliban would never be resolved militarily.
Negotiations have been taking place for nearly a year! That doesn't sound Trumpian at all.

Khalilzad said an agreement with the Taliban had been worked out "in principle." But the Afghan government wasn't involved -- and once a draft had been drawn up, the U.S. wouldn't let the Afghan president keep a copy.
The talks between Afghan-born U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban leaders in Qatar, where the insurgent group has a political office, have been so closely guarded that last week Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was shown — not given — the final draft. The Afghan government has been sidelined because the Taliban refuse to negotiate with what they call a U.S. puppet.
But with the Afghan government not on board, Trump decided it was time for the presidential equivalent of a sweeps-week Very Special Episode. He invited President Ghani and representatives of the Taliban to Camp David, wanting to be seen as the master negotiator who wrapped the deal up:
Mr. Trump did not want the Camp David meeting to be a celebration of the deal; after staying out of the details of what has been a delicate effort in a complicated region, Mr. Trump wanted to be the dealmaker who would put the final parts together himself, or at least be perceived to be.
But, as AP reports, the plan broke down several days before Trump announced on Twitter that it wasn't going to happen:
Trump said he axed the Camp David meetings and called off negotiations because of a recent Taliban bombing near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that killed a U.S. service member, even though nine other Americans have died since June 25 in Taliban-orchestrated violence. But the deal started unraveling days earlier after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani postponed his trip to Washington and the Taliban refused to travel to the U.S. before a deal was actually signed, according to a former senior Afghan official.
The deal wasn't done -- and it wasn't much of a deal:
Far from guaranteeing a ceasefire, the deal includes only a reduction in violence in Kabul and neighboring Parwan province, where the U.S. has a military base.
And now there's no deal, because Trump wanted to rush the process and stage a dramatic moment, probably because the presidential campaign in this country is heating up, with Trump trailing the top contenders in most polls. Attempting to notch a significant foreign policy achievement during election season is normal behavior for presidents -- remember, Nixon went to China in 1972. But you need to be reasonably certain that you'll come away with something. Trump, being Trump, was too impatient. He couldn't let the process play out because he thinks he needs to put points on the board now. He lacks impulse control.

And here's the result:
President Trump’s decision to break off peace talks with the Taliban, at least for now, left Afghanistan bracing for a bloody prelude to national elections this month....
Expect more war, says Kabul University's Abdul Waheed Wafa.
" ... Until [talks] resume again, the Taliban will throw everything they have — with explosions, and with even more pressure on cities under siege. And the U.S. military can pressure back too.”
All because a ratings stunt didn't go as hoped.

But this is not what I expected from Trump. It's a move meant to appeal to people outside his base. I didn't think he'd bother. Unfortunately for him, this kind of thing seems beyond his abilities.

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