Donald Trump’s surprise Saturday announcement that he had invited the Taliban to Camp David only to disinvite them has even a few Republicans upset. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois told CNN that he was in disbelief that “Taliban leaders, in the week of 9/11 … were going to come to really the area in the United States, not too far from New York, Camp David, that has been a place of such wonderful things that have happened in the past.”
The Trump administration has been working toward a peace deal with the Taliban that would allow the U.S. to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, but how did Trump get to the point of inviting them to Camp David? Days before 9/11? Simple: He wanted to be seen as the guy who made the deal.
Peace negotiations with the Taliban have been led by former Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, working under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. They’ve substantially excluded the government of Afghanistan, including President Ashraf Ghani. The idea of inviting Taliban leaders to the U.S. emerged when the talks were close to a deal, The New York Times reports. The Taliban only wanted to come if the deal had been finalized, but Trump had other ideas: “Mr. Trump did not want the Camp David meeting to be a celebration of the deal; after staying out of the details of what has been a delicate effort in a complicated region, Mr. Trump wanted to be the dealmaker who would put the final parts together himself, or at least be perceived to be.”
Only at that point was Ghani brought into the process—and even then, though he was invited to the U.S., he wasn’t privy to most of the details.
And then it all fell apart. Trump realized that it would be a bad look to bring the Taliban to the U.S. immediately after a U.S. soldier was killed in a car bombing. But where it was expected to fall apart quietly, with just a few people knowing it had ever been planned, Trump had other ideas, and of course they involved Twitter. “The tweets took many in the administration by surprise; there was no reason for Mr. Trump to reveal what had happened, several officials said, especially since he has not given up on the idea of a negotiated settlement,” the Times reports. But instead, Trump used the tweets to posture about how … he draws the line at meeting in the U.S. with a group that had just killed a soldier for leverage. Because he’s confident that his followers are going to see that as strength instead of focusing on how exactly things got to that point.