A good show by the president, and not the first time he’s done this on (or near) a holiday. He and Melania made it to Iraq the day after Christmas last year to say hello and defend his decision to withdraw American troops from Syria. This appearance delivered some news too when Trump claimed that the Taliban was now open to a ceasefire and that peace talks had resumed. Was that true or false?
Undoubtedly he’d like to make a deal before the election so that he can tell voters next fall that he kept his core campaign promise of disentangling America from foreign interventions, beginning with the longest war in American history. Two days ago the Washington Post ran a story about the son of Johnny “Mike” Spann, the CIA operative who was among the first Americans killed in Afghanistan after 9/11, to note that Spann’s son … was now 18 years old, an adult eligible to enlist and serve in the same war as his father. Trump wants a drawdown before the election, especially with progress in other foreign theaters like North Korea having stalled, and a “withdrawal with honor” deal with the enemy is the first step. And there may be reason to believe that one is in the works:
He also said that the Taliban is now willing to agree to a cease-fire, a matter of contention in the earlier talks and something that Mr. Ghani’s government has been insistent upon.
“We’re saying it has to be a cease-fire, and they didn’t want to do a cease-fire,” Mr. Trump said of the Afghan insurgents. “Now they do want to do a cease-fire. I believe it’ll probably work out that way.”
Mr. Ghani later joined Mr. Trump onstage for remarks to several hundred American soldiers gathered in an aircraft hangar. The appearance of a foreign leader before American troops was unusual. Mr. Ghani, giving an energetic, almost campaign-style speech, praised Mr. Trump as “the architect” of a strategy for “wiping out Al Qaeda” in Afghanistan, and hailed him for the killing is ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
If Ghani was at the rally in the role of Trump cheerleader, he must be at least somewhat pleased with the state of negotiations right now. So maybe there is a ceasefire brewing.
Or, I suppose, it may be that he’s simply terrified after what happened to the Kurds in Syria that Trump will seize on some opportunity to withdraw American troops without notice, with no deal in place that at least nominally secures the authority of the Afghan government. Jazz wrote a few weeks about how the military had quietly begun to prepare for that possibility — insta-retreat via tweet with no advance warning so that commanders can prepare to withdraw in an orderly way. You never know what the man might do when the wrong mood strikes.
Why, he might even do something off-the-wall nutty like inviting the Taliban to Camp David for a summit.
Speaking of the military and the president’s moods, this new CNN piece is brutal:
Dismay in the Pentagon has been building over Trump’s sporadic, impulsive and contradictory decision-making on a range of issues, including his sudden pullback of troops in Syria. But now there are new and significant worries, as multiple military officials and retired officers say Trump’s intervention into high-profile war crimes cases cannot be ignored…
Top military leaders say they are concerned about Trump’s divisive rhetoric and politicization of the military. They also tell CNN they worry the President’s mercurial management style — often expressed through tweets — may be undermining national security by making military planning increasingly difficult…
Pentagon sources describe meetings in which senior officials have struggled with what they described as the President’s mercurial moods, lack of focus, impulsive decision-making and resistance to information that doesn’t fit his views…
Others in the military say Trump has displayed a tone deafness, reacting positively, for instance, to the prospect of visiting Moscow for the May Day military parade.
The chance of an impromptu bug-out from Afghanistan in the name of fulfilling Trump’s 2016 vow to bring the boys home may be small but it’s not zero. And I wonder if today’s goodwill visit wasn’t driven by the need to smooth things over with the Pentagon after the fiasco over Eddie Gallagher ended with the secretary of the Navy being fired. Probably not: Stephanie Grisham claimed today that the Afghanistan trip had been planned for weeks, which must be true due to the need to prepare security for the president. But the Gallagher business made the need for a successful trip that much more important. It sounds like it was indeed a success.
Here’s a Scavino-curated quickie clip of Trump meeting the troops followed by his remarks at Bagram, a beaming Ghani visible over his shoulder.