US President Donald Trump speaks during a retreat with Republican lawmakers at Camp David in Thurmont, Maryland, January 6, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEBSAUL...
SAUL LOEB

Inviting the Taliban to Camp David, Trump was his own adviser

Updated

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a retired Marine who served in Iraq, asked a reasonable question on the minds of many: “[W]ho the f**k thought it was a good idea to invite the Taliban to Camp David – let alone around September 11th?”

By all accounts, the idea originated with Donald Trump himself. The New York Times reported that it was the president who thought it’d be wise to bring “the leaders of a rugged militant organization” at “the mountain getaway used for presidents, prime ministers and kings just three days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that led to the Afghan war.”

A reporter asked Trump yesterday if perhaps someone on his team talked him out of hosting the meeting. He replied:

“No. Actually, in terms of advisors, I took my own advice. I liked the idea of meeting…. We had a meeting scheduled. It was my idea, and it was my idea to terminate it. I didn’t even – I didn’t discuss it with anybody else.”

It’s such a strange thing to brag about. The president wants credit for having invited Taliban leaders to Camp David around the 9/11 anniversary; he wants credit for uninviting them; and he wants credit for not discussing this with anyone.

There’s a process in place for dramatic policy decisions like these, with qualified officials carefully doing their due diligence. But as the New York Times reported on Sunday, and as Trump effectively confirmed yesterday, the “usual National Security Council process was dispensed with.”

Asked specifically about Camp David yesterday, the president added, “Well, Camp David has held meetings with a lot of people that would have been perceived as being pretty tough customers and pretty bad people. There have been plenty of so-called ‘bad people’ brought up to Camp David for meetings…. [Y]ou know, Camp David has had many meetings that, I guess, people would not have considered politically correct.”

Perhaps. Eisenhower, for example, hosted Khrushchev at Camp David in 1959, and at the time, the Soviet Union was a dangerous and powerful foe. A generation later, Clinton welcomed Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to the same venue, in the hopes of helping negotiate a Middle East peace agreement.

But foreign “tough customers” who were welcomed to Camp David all had a degree of international legitimacy. It’s not unreasonable to wonder whether the Taliban deserves such a status – or whether Trump thought any of this through in advance.

The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty, clearly unimpressed, wrote in her new column, “That nothing is sacred to President Trump is something we should have figured out long ago. But that does not mean we should lose our ability to be shocked by his continuous desecration of collective norms, institutions and symbols…. Trump’s half-baked idea to invite its leaders to Camp David was another one of those reality-television-style stunts that he seems to find irresistible.”