Was Trump Wrong?

There has been a lot of breastbeating in the media about Trump’s cancellation of a planned meeting with representatives of the Taliban at Camp David. We don’t really know if such meetings were actually scheduled but let’s suppose they were. Commentary has tended to fall into one of three categories:

  • If Trump does it, it must be wrong.
  • We should never negotiate with the Taliban under any circumstances.
  • We should negotiate with the Taliban but the timing was wrong.

My own view is that putting boots on the ground in Afghanistan was stupid. As soon as we did so and brought down the Taliban government, we became the “occupying power” under international conventions to which we are a party with certain obligations—obligations that would be difficult or impossible to satisfy. We did need to respond forcefully but I don’t think we should ever have become the occupying power. Americans didn’t have the stomach for my preferred solution.

All of that is water under the bridge. We still have troops in Afghanistan with a primary mission of counter-insurgency, i.e. fighting the Taliban in the futile hope that a non-Taliban Afghan government will be able to stand on its own.

Should Trump be negotiating with the Taliban? When? What should the objectives of such a negotiation be?

25 comments… add one
  • walt moffett Link

    I would prefer public negotiations occur between the legitimate government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, while away from the cameras, the negotiations are warlord to warlord if the plan is to kill terrorists whilst letting the Taliban be. Presumed is an agreement with the Afghani government permitting foreigners to wage war in their country.

  • steve Link

    We dont really know who was coming to the meeting or what exactly was on the table. I dont have any problems per se with Trump and his team meeting with the Taliban. That said, it doesn’t sound like all the background work needed for this kind of deal was done. It sounds like they were just going to have one big meeting and fix everything, presumably because Trump is there and he is an awesome deal maker.

    If the above truly is the case, then I have think it was kind of stupid and a waste of time. You need to have some baseline agreements sealed between all of the different actors, then maybe pull in Trump to try to seal the deal. You need experienced people who understand the players involved to be involved early. I dont think there is a really good way out. If nothing else I dont think it likely all the players honor whatever agreement they make.


  • Just my two cents. I doubt that Trump is as omni-competent as Trump thinks he is (I don’t think anybody is). But I don’t know and I don’t see anything wrong with his meeting with the Taliban.

    I don’t know how to break it to people but, if the objective is to prevent an attack like the one on 9/11 from ever being planned or staged from Afghanistan in the future there aren’t many ways of accomplishing that. We can pay the Taliban not to host such evil doers and hope they stay bought; we can station troops in Afghanistan with a mission of counter-terrorism until it can be proven to us that no such attack will emanate from Afghanistan, i.e. forever; or we can make the prospect of another such attack being made against the U. S. by anybody so terrifying that it will be the stuff of nightmares into the indefinite future. Or we can bear the risk. Did I miss anything?

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    Well it’s not the end of the story – but we may be closing the end of the US part of the story.

    The bigger picture is – how many Democratic Presidential candidates have stated they will withdraw from Afghanistan (I believe Warren has). Has Joe Biden changed his skeptical view on troops in Afghanistan from 10 years ago?

    Whoever is President in 2020 will likely be more skeptical of troops in Afghanistan then Trump is now.

    For the Taliban – dealing with the US maybe the easy part. They still have to deal with non-Pashtun minority who are intensely skeptical of the Taliban. They tried to win by force by allying with AQ in 2000 and that attempt forced the Taliban from power for 20 years.

  • Andy Link

    The Al Qaeda leadership is still pledged allegiance to the Taliban but the Taliban has shown little inclination or ability to actually control AQ, and the two groups still cooperate in Afghanistan.

    So I do not think the Taliban can be trusted, so any negotiation should keep that probability in mind.

  • Guarneri Link

    Dot point 1 – its the overwhelmingly prevalent position. To be ignored.

    Dot point 2 – Naïve.

    Dot point 3 – Add the venue. I understand the politics. Most would look at the political angle. Trump does so far less. Some are horrified. I find it refreshing.

    Americans don’t have the stomach to do what it takes to win wars. Political correctness. Detachment due to their far off location. Its outrageous. If things have become so intolerable that you ask those men and women to go do that, make it quick and, hopefully, a warning for other bad actors in the future.

    I don’t think Trump believes he is omni-competent. He believes he has an obligation to try to negotiate. When he fails, and he’s not afraid to, he withdraws. The other side apparently has been conditioned to believe that American politics rules out failure; they will get a candy coated deal, and perhaps a plane loaded with cash. And he knows something else that the pundits don’t.

    A good negotiator always offers two options: You can buy the Taliban off, or

    “I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you screw with me, I’ll kill you all.”

    When they come to understand there are 4 more years of that, well……

  • TarsTarkas Link

    Looking back we should have either left completely after the Northern Alliance took power or kept on after the Taliban until they were exterminated. Instead we got ourselves into another Vietnam, complete with ever more restrictive rules of engagement and accusations of war crimes (the Taliban, of course, never got accused. Fear of death does that to lawyers). There was a reason why the Romans launched so many punitive raids on their barbaric neighbors when said neighbors got obstreperous (during which they killed and burnt everything in their path). It worked.

  • Every violent action of the Taliban’s is a war crime. They aren’t regulars. We shouldn’t be taking prisoners. We should be determining their status as required by the Geneva Conventions and, if they are determined to be irregulars, executing them on the battlefield.

  • TastyBits Link


    Would those experts be the same ones that told President Obama to stay in Iraq? I do not recall your opposition to his completely ignoring them.

    Throwing shit against the wall and seeing what sticks is not how a logical argument is constructed.

    Explain to me once more how you are so much smarter than any Trump supporter.

  • Roy Lofquist Link

    It is quite possible that this is the first time that the Taliban heard about the meeting.

  • steve Link

    “Americans don’t have the stomach to do what it takes to win wars.”

    This gets tiresome since it is BS. We know how to win state vs state wars and have done pretty well with those. What we arent so good at is knowing how to win asymmetric wars against non-state actors. Killing lots of people, the preferred tough guy (and stupid guy ) approach isn’t always the answer. The Russians weren’t shy about killing Afghans. Didnt work for them. Didnt really work well for anyone who has occupied the place. There is no good way to finally resolve a war there as it is not a coherent nation state. AS another example, though not so much against non state actors, we bomber the heck out of North Korea. Estimates are that we killed at least 20% of them. Where are we now?

    ” kept on after the Taliban until they were exterminated.”

    How were we supposed to find them. We were more than willing to kill Taliban, but we have always had trouble finding them.

    “I don’t think Trump believes he is omni-competent.”

    Based upon what? Feel free to cite an instance or two when he has admitted he was wrong about something.

    “Would those experts be the same ones that told President Obama to stay in Iraq?”

    I suspect that he would choose people I would not, but that doesn’t matter. I am sure there are conservatives who understand that area and have personal relationships in the area that could do the groundwork. What matters is that they work on getting all of the different factions on board. There was some reason to think that maybe Trump’s unfocused, undisciplined approach revolving around his personal charm might work were nothing else had worked or it was at least worth a shot, but to date he hasn’t been able to make a deal with much of anyone. He cant even make a deal with the Democrats, and as you will recall the fact that Obama couldn’t reach a deal with the GOP was because he didnt know how to do it. At some point even people on the right have to notice that Trump hasn’t been successful. Maybe there is a reason others dont use his approach.


  • We know how to win state vs state wars and have done pretty well with those.

    The last state vs. state war we won was 74 years ago. What we’ve been doing since then is either losing or fighting to a draw. But what about the Gulf War (I hear somebody say)? Another instance of fighting to a draw. Saddam Hussein was allowed to withdraw. After our “victory” he used poison gas on the Kurds, slaughtered the Marsh Arabs, and generally carried on with business as usual. I think that’s more a case of if we define “victory” narrowly enough we can win.

    If what you mean is that we achieve military victory followed by our civilian leadership falling on its face, you’ve got a point. Your statement and the one you’re complaining about are then not in conflict after all. Our politicians don’t have the courage to do what is necessary to win a war.

  • steve Link

    “Our politicians don’t have the courage to do what is necessary to win a war.”

    (Ok, pet peeve of mine. A politician sitting behind a desk and ordering someone else’s kids to go fight does not constitute courage.) I wrote my repose in a rush, but I think that i should have added the part, like you did, that we have been able to win the battle part of wars when we are not fighting NGOs. (Not so much when we fight non state actors.) The problem comes with the after, and I dont think that is a matter of courage but rather having a good reason to get involved in our wars to begin with, and no strategy for occupation/leaving. You can tell our military to go somewhere and kill a million Asians or Arabs and they will pretty much do it, but what then?

    Since I am still not sure why we invaded Iraq, take Vietnam. Suppose we convinced China to stay out of it. Suppose we went north and conquered N Vietnam. What then? We would have been the proud owners of two of the poorest and most poorly governed countries in the world. What would we have done with them? Were we going to occupy them forever to keep them from becoming communist? In today’s dollars, assuming we stationed a couple hundred thousand troops there, a couple hundred billion dollars a year plus a few lives every year. Heck, the communists could have bankrupted us just by starting wars in 3 or 4 countries if we were actually going to do stuff like that.


  • The only winning move is not to play.

  • TastyBits Link


    (Ok, pet peeve of mine. A politician sitting behind a desk and ordering someone else’s kids to go fight does not constitute courage.)

    (This is my pet peeve, and my comments are more general than just you.)

    In the US, civilians control the military, and this is by design. If you mean that they should have combat military experience, you are not much better off. By that standard:

    Korea – Eisenhower
    Vietnam – JFK, LBJ, Nixon
    1st Gulf War – Bush the Elder

    If you mean any military service:
    Grenada – Reagan
    Panama – Reagan
    Afghanistan – Bush the Younger
    Iraq – Bush the Younger

    WW2 – politician sitting behind a desk (FDR)
    Bosnia – politician sitting behind a desk
    Afghanistan troop increase – politician sitting behind a desk
    Libya – politician sitting behind a desk
    Syria – politician sitting behind a desk

    WW2 – German corporeal during WW1

    You may have a case with draft dodgers and a conscripted military, but with a voluntary military, they were just “ahead of the curve”.

    Again, this is not about you in particular.

  • I think there is more than one kind of courage. Physical courage, moral courage, political courage, just to name three. I do not believe that our present leaders have any of those and that has been true for some time.

  • Grey Shambler Link

    Walter Cronkite”s “This war is lost”, lost Vietnam. That plus the draft. Whether we should have ever been there is another story. Chiang Kai-Shek, our ally, hoped we would help him drive the French Colonialists from his country. But an understanding of the Red Menace is needed to understand why we chose the other side. Were our policymakers blind then? Or blind today?

  • Grey Shambler Link

    “It is quite possible that this is the first time that the Taliban heard about the meeting.”
    Very possible, Trump may have been “Phishing”as a way to determine WHO the Taliban leadership really are, and IF negotiations are really possible with a leadership as fluid as MS-13.

  • steve Link

    TB- Our politicians dont need to be former military. I believe strongly in civilian control. I just dont think you call it an act of bravery when they order people off to war. It could be a wise act, or stupid, thoughtful, reckless, whatever, just not bravery.

    Dave- As I said it is a pet peeve. I think we need another word for political courage as it is almost always portrayed as moral courage, or being tough or something. I think it is good enough to just say that our leaders need the foresight and ability to plan wars, including an occupation and exit strategy, or maybe even just to figure out a good reason why we are going to war to begin with. As I said, I still cant figure out why we invaded Iraq. (I know that you prefer to use Libya as an example for some reason, but Iraq was much, much more costly in many ways.)


  • I opposed our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and kvetched about them at the time. I’m still kvetching about Afghanistan. As I explained elsewhere today, if you do not look at Afghanistan through a political prism, you’re missing the point. The best opportunity for removing our troops from Afghanistan will be towards the end of a president’s second term of office.

  • Grey Shambler Link

    ER,,,ho chi minh.

  • Grey Shambler Link

    “I still cant figure out why we invaded Iraq”
    G.W.Bush believes that all peoples of the earth yearn for “freedom” and “democracy”. He’s content to let history judge the veracity of his beliefs. It’s true that most people of the earth actually yearn for safety and plenty, but most people are passive and not actors, as with our own revolution. That’s why, and history will judge, or not.

  • TastyBits Link


    I did not add the words courage, bravery, cowardice, etc., and the only reason to add them is emotion not logic.

    Ordering someone else’s kids to go fight does not constitute the best way to milk a goat. True, but it only proves that I can string together clauses that are grammatically correct or that I can throw shit against the wall.

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    Withdrawal does not have to be a President’s second term.

    It could also occur Vietnam style – i.e Congress cuts funding via a veto proof majority. Or revoking the AUMF.

    Would Congress have a different calculation then a President?

  • A Democratic Congress might put a Republican president in that position or a Republican Congress might put a Democratic president in that position but a Democratic Congress will never put a Democratic president in that position. Or Republican mutatis mutandis.

    It’s also hard for me to imagine an ultra-hawkish Congress withdrawing funding from Afghanistan regardless of the party of the Congress or president.

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