WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump defended his decision to meet with the Taliban at Camp David for peace talks over the weekend, even as he took credit for canceling the meeting.
On Monday afternoon, Trump said the Taliban are “dead as far as I’m concerned. They’re dead.”
“It was my idea,” to hold the meeting at Camp David, Trump told reporters gathered on the South Lawn as he headed to Marine One for the first leg of a trek to North Carolina. “And it was my idea to terminate it. I didn’t discuss it with anyone else.”
Trump repeated the assertion that he made on Twitter, that he canceled the unorthodox meeting at the hallowed presidential retreat because a Taliban suicide car bombing had killed 12, including American Army Sgt. First Class Elis Angel Barreto Ortiz, in a bid to strengthen their bargaining leverage.
That move, Trump said, caused him to call off peace talks that could have ended America’s role in the 18-year-old war that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. “They feel like they blew it,” said Trump.
Story shocks Washington
The story came to light on Twitter over the weekend, when Trump shocked Washington with the news that, “unbeknownst to almost everyone,” he had planned to meet with “major Taliban leaders” and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani at Camp David on Sunday.
It was the rare supersize political nugget that did not leak to the press – despite its huge policy ramifications and its controversy within the administration where some reportedly objected to inviting the Taliban to Camp David.
The Taliban government in Afghanistan shielded al Qaeda as its leaders plotted the airplane attacks on New York and Washington.
Democrats and Republicans alike were taken aback, especially given the cancelled meetings’ proximity to the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on Wednesday.
“I don’t know how you bring those who gave refuge to the perpetrator of Sept. 11 as we approach the 18th anniversary to Camp David,” Sen. Bob Melendez, D-N.J., told WCBS.
Democratic strategist Maria Cardona tweeted, “And he keeps proving my point – this weekend’s tweet announcing and then canceling the supposed Taliban meeting at Camp David – WHO DOES THAT??? This is not normal.”
Republicans glad talks dead
Rather than criticize Trump’s decision to invite the Taliban for talks, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., issued a tweet that praised Trump for being “right to end the talks.”
“Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after al-Qaida, supported by the Taliban, killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11. No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever,” Cheney’s tweet began.
Likewise, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wrote, “Could not agree more with President @realDonaldTrump that peace talks with the Taliban are dead until they change their behavior. When it comes to radical Islam STRONG is better than WEAK.”
Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., defended his father in a tweet that hit Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich., a former Republican who left the party as he became the only GOP House member to support impeachment. Amash is considered a potential rival in the GOP 2020 presidential primary.
“Drumroll pls. The hypocrite of the week award goes to Justin Amash,” Trump Jr. tweeted. “He’s called for an end to the war in Afghanistan, introduced bills to limit/end our intervention. When (Donald J. Trump) actually thinks of meeting with the other side, Justin is against it.”
Longtime war critic
As a private citizen for years before he ran for the White House, Trump frequently criticized President George W. Bush’s decision to put U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. But as he ran for president in the 2016 election, Trump acknowledged that U.S. forces “probably” would have to remain in Afghanistan.
Even still, Trump made no secret of his desire to pull U.S. troops out of the region. Recent news reports on the months-long negotiations with the Taliban – headed by former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and held in Qatar — signaled a deal that would result in the withdrawal of some 5,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan within months.
Trump repeated an argument made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday shows that peace negotiations tend to involve “bad people.”
“The alternative was the White House, and you wouldn’t have been happy with that either,” Trump quipped to reporters.