President Trump surprised many over the weekend with the revelation that he had canceled secret peace talks that were about to take place at Camp David with Taliban and Afghan leaders. Trump said he called off the meeting following a Taliban attack in Kabul that killed an American soldier. Now the big question is what happens next in regard to US plans to scale down its presence in Afghanistan. A look at coverage:
- The talks: The New York Times has an in-depth look at how the Camp David meeting nearly came to be, reporting that Trump himself suggested using the coveted locale. Some background: The US has been negotiating separately with the Taliban for some time, and a deal is close. Those talks have not included Afghanistan, however, and it was Trump's idea to invite Afghan leader Ashraf Ghani to the US to sign off on an agreement.
- Trump's style: The Washington Post reports this via an official: "Comparing the initiative to Trump's personal meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and his stated desire to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, this official said Trump thinks his personal style can persuade anyone, and that he has seen the possibility of a substantial Afghan withdrawal as a major plus for his reelection campaign."
- Critic's view: Don't buy the president's explanation that he called off the meeting over the death of an American service member, writes Chas Danner at New York. "Last week's deadly suicide bombing was not some final straw for Trump, as he and Pompeo have claimed, but rather a politically palatable excuse to save face after the administration's plan for a peacemaking grand finale fell apart," writes Danner. He has a lengthy analysis.
- How it allegedly fell apart: The Times reports the Taliban did agree to come to Camp David, but only if the peace deal was announced prior to their arrival there. That was a "fundamental dividing point." Trump "wanted to be the dealmaker who would put the final parts together himself, or at least be perceived to be," per the story.
- So now what? Not only is the Camp David meeting off, but those US-Taliban talks also have been suspended. The AP reports that it's not clear when they might resume, and the Times thinks it could be "several months." Also up in the air is the timeline for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. About 14,000 are currently there, and Trump promised last month to bring that number down to about 8,600. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out two conditions for any drawdown on Sunday: reduced violence and the pledge that Afghanistan would not be used as the base for an attack on the US.
- A rift: The Afghanistan strategy has exposed a rift between national security adviser John Bolton, a hawk who wants no part of a deal with the Taliban, and Pompeo, who backs the negotiations, reports the Post. Bolton maintains that Trump can keep a campaign pledge of reducing the US troop presence without a Taliban deal.
- Taliban threat: A Taliban spokesman warned that the cancellation will result in American deaths, reports Reuters. "This will lead to more losses to the US," he said. "Its credibility will be affected, its anti-peace stance will be exposed to the world, losses to lives and assets will increase."
(Critics including Republicans hated the idea of the Taliban going to Camp David
, especially so close to the 9/11 anniversary.)