Donald Trump took the presidency vowing to bring his deal-making savvy to American foreign policy, yet his love for grand gestures and personal diplomacy has fallen short with North Korea, China and the Mideast.
Now Afghanistan can be added to the list.
In a series of tweets, the president dispatched with a secret plan to host Taliban and Afghan leaders at his Camp David retreat this weekend ahead of the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. He wanted to talk directly with Taliban negotiators, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said on CBS, one of five TV interviews.
“I want to look them in the eye,” the president said, according to his top diplomat. That would be reminiscent of his approach to China’s Xi Jinping and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, but with just over a year before the 2020 elections, Trump’s personal brand of diplomacy has few successes to point to.
“So far, his foreign policy bluster has produced little,” said James Dorsey, senior fellow at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies. “North Korea is not backing off nuclear weapons, Iran is proving resilient and defiant, and the ‘Deal of the Century’ looks more like a stillborn baby.”
The White House rejects that assessment, saying that major foreign policy achievements have historically taken more than just months to pull together.
“The president isn’t afraid to try and tackle hard problems whereas most politicians run away from them,” said Judd Deere, a White House deputy press secretary.
The Afghanistan move capped a tough week.The president’s envoy to North Korea talks said negotiations have been stalled for months. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt announced his intention to depart; the vaunted Israeli-Palestinian peace plan he’s been working on has yet to be unveiled. The US-China trade war drags on.
Pompeo defended the president’s setbacks as signs of strength, the early price to pay for taking on intractable issues.
“It’s going to take more than words,’’ Pompeo said. “He walked away in Hanoi from North Korea, they wouldn’t make a deal that made sense for America. He’ll do that with the Iranians. When the Chinese moved away from a trade agreement they promised they would make, he broke off those conversations too.’’
Trump campaigned on a vow to pull US troops from intractable conflicts, a description exemplified by the Afghan war, where American forces have been mired for almost 18 years. But while Trump raised US troops levels in Afghanistan early in his term to about 14,000, the Taliban forces are now at their strongest levels since being ousted from power a generation ago.