The collapse of talks between the Trump administration and the Taliban brings to a merciful end an ill-conceived process that risked handing over power in Afghanistan to a terrorist organization. President Donald Trump was actually on the verge of hosting Taliban leaders at Camp David as Americans commemorated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. No one should need reminding that the Taliban provided safe haven to the al-Qaida masterminds of those attacks.
If Camp David was Trump's idea, it's a clear warning that something isn't right in his head. Clear-minded, thoughtful leaders do not insult the memory of the 9/11 dead by welcoming al-Qaida collaborators to Camp David — especially when the Taliban still hasn't apologized for its role. If this wasn't Trump's idea, then why didn't he raise objections earlier? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad have both defended the abortive meeting.
Either way, Trump is the decider-in-chief, and the buck should stop with him. But like so many gaffes, missteps, errant hurricane forecasts and lies in Trump's ever-expanding portfolio, the president takes responsibility for no bad outcome that occurs on his watch. Just as Americans must never forget the outrage that occurred on 9/11, they must never forget that Trump actually contemplated giving the U.S. stamp of approval to the terrorist group that not only hosted al-Qaida but militarily defended it when U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
Trump on Saturday tweeted out the bizarre revelation, "Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday. They were coming to the United States tonight." He blamed the cancellation on a suicide bombing in Kabul Thursday that killed a U.S. soldier and 11 other people.
There's no way of knowing whether this was the actual reason for the cancellation or if Trump was trying to save face. But if that was the reason for the cancellation, why did it take Trump and his advisers this long to realize what the world has known for decades — that the Taliban cannot be trusted? Why did it only occur to Trump at the eleventh hour that the peace process had always lacked a crucial ingredient, the requirement of a cease-fire as a gesture of good faith?
Henceforth, there is only one way to proceed, and that is by having the elected Afghan government sit at the table from the start as an equal partner with the Taliban in any negotiated settlement. By excluding the elected leaders, an unmistakable message went out to the world that they were merely bit players. The administration irresponsibly empowered the Taliban to decide the fates of millions of Afghans who despise the idea of giving legitimacy to one of the world's most notorious terrorist groups.
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