Tuesday, March 3, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He bragged about his "very good relationship" with a Taliban leader he spoke with for the first time today.

Trump told reporters today that he'd spoken with Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. He characterized it this way:

The relationship is very good that I have with the mullah.  And we had a good, long conversation today.  And, you know, they want to cease the violence.  They’d like to cease violence also.

It's certainly true that the Taliban would like for its war with the United States and what is left of the U.S.-backed Afghan government to be over. But if Trump has a "very good" relationship with Baradar, it was only a few hours old. Unless the White House has been lying about Trump's contact with Taliban leaders, the two have never spoken before.

Of course, Trump's remarks could be taken as mere diplomatic license, a way to help along negotiations where he's already at a disadvantage. But that's hard to square with his famous and extremely well-documented admiration (or even "love") for dictators and strongmen.

And in today's remarks, he began to repeat a pattern of empathizing with America's adversaries while criticizing its allies—something he's done with South Korea and the United States' former Kurdish allies in Syria. As soon as he had finished talking about the peaceful intentions of the Taliban, he started insinuating that the pro-U.S. government in Kabul might be stalling peace talks because they somehow profit from the U.S. military presence in their country.

Q: And the Afghan government seems reluctant to turn over those 5,000 prisoners. 
TRUMP: Well, they may be reluctant.  You know, they’ve been — they’ve done very well with the United States for many years, far beyond military, if you look at all the money that we’ve spent in Afghanistan.  We’ve spent trillions of dollars.  Trillions of dollars.

The one thing it might be possible for everyone in Afghanistan to agree on is that nearly two decades of American occupation has not gone "well."

Why does this matter?

  • Presidents are supposed to represent the interests of the United States at the negotiating table, not themselves.
  • There's really no positive way to explain Trump's affection for authoritarian leaders.