President Donald Trump surprised everyone over the weekend.
He announced, via Twitter, that he was calling off secret peace talks at Camp David with Taliban leaders and the Afghan president. The president also said he was putting an end to ongoing peace negotiations with the Taliban.
The reason for the cancellations, Trump said, was that the Islamist militia had claimed credit for a recent attack that killed an American soldier.
Trump’s news provoked a wave of criticism.
Democratic presidential candidate and Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar lambasted Trump for seeking big, melodramatic victories like the ones that dominate reality television.
“This isn’t a game show,” Klobuchar harrumphed.
Even some of Trump’s fellow Republicans were caustic. They questioned both the president’s judgment and his sanity for inviting the Taliban’s leaders to the United States for talks that would have continued through the anniversary of 9/11.
I understand the outrage the president’s plan has generated, but I’m not among his critics on this one. I disagree with many things Donald Trump says and does, but I’m not going to lambast anyone for trying to persuade people to stop killing each other.
I also remember a debate more than a decade ago, when Barack Obama was running for the presidency. His chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, tore into him for saying he would be willing to talk with the leaders of nations and sects in conflict with the United States.
Obama’s response made sense.
He said it is impossible to achieve peace without peace talks. And it’s impossible to have peace talks if the combatants didn’t talk to each other.
What made sense then makes sense now.
What’s more, just like what is good for the goose is good for the gander, what’s fair for a Democrat to do is fair for a Republican.
And vice versa.
Anyone who thinks otherwise is substituting partisanship for thought.
The war in Afghanistan has been going on for nearly 18 years now.
We’re now 16 years after the moment when the president – George W. Bush – who committed America to that war declared “mission accomplished” and said peace was at hand.
Since then, a lot of people – many of them Americans – have died. Every one of those deaths is a tragedy.
There have been two presidents since Bush – Obama and Trump. Both have found the Afghan war a difficult situation from which to extricate the United States.
But presidents are supposed to solve the tough problems.
All the easy ones are solved by someone else long before they reach the Oval Office.
And, yes, I understand that the Taliban has done awful things. They did many of those things to Americans.
But wars don’t occur among friends. If we want people to stop dying, we have to talk with the Taliban. Again, there can’t be peace without peace talks and there can’t be peace talks without actual talks.
So, I’m not going to give Donald Trump or anyone else a hard time for trying to end the bloodshed in Afghanistan. It was worth a try, even if the attempt failed.
Do I wish the president had gone about it differently?
It’s not the secrecy I object to.
Many difficult negotiations – for peace or any other important but contentious goal – must take place behind closed doors. That’s the only way the participants can talk freely and explore possibilities.
No, it’s that the president hasn’t figured out that some of the approaches he used in other parts of his life won’t work with diplomacy.
In the end, successful diplomacy – successful peacemaking – is about trust.
Donald Trump doesn’t seem to realize that his now international reputation as a man who tells the truth only by accident and who disposes of ironclad commitments the way other people toss away used tissues makes it harder for him to achieve his goals.
Much, much harder.
But at least he seems to be trying to stop the killing.
That should count for something.