Referred to in Barbara Boland’s latest article on the reasons for Bolton’s departure as National Security Council Advisor to the president…
Highly-Placed Leakers, Swamp Creatures Blast Trump-Taliban Deal
Beltway interests of every stripe are rushing to their battle stations to make sure any agreement goes down in flames.
The Trump administration may be nearing a deal with the Taliban that would enable the U.S. to withdraw 5,400 troops from Afghanistan. Immediately, the keyboard brigades from Washington’s chattering class snapped into action blasting Trump’s peace overtures, assisted by leaks from the highest levels of the Trump administration.
The consensus across Washington is that Trump’s ability to end the war in Afghanistan has been weakened because the Taliban knows Trump wants to get out.
According to Politico, “President Donald Trump’s efforts to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan keep hitting a major roadblock: his own proclamations that he wants to get out.” The Washington Post had the exact same take: “The administration has been negotiating with the Taliban for an orderly withdrawal of most U.S. troops. The problem for U.S. negotiators, however, is that Trump won’t shut up about what he wants.”
Trump’s desire to get out of Afghanistan was a campaign promise—not exactly a state secret. America’s longest war has dragged on for nearly two decades, and nearly 59 percent of American adults say it’s not worth fighting. It’s absurd to assume that the Taliban is not aware of American public sentiment, or that two presidents have run on the platform of getting the U.S. out of the Middle East.
Never mind—the same voices that kept us in a war posture for nearly 18 years are still employing the same, tired battle tactics.
“Our nation is understandably weary of war, but that’s exactly when leaders should make the case for continued commitment… now is not the time to blink,” writes David French at the National Review. Fox News’ Brit Hume put it even more bluntly: “This is called losing. We completely—ultimately abandoned that situation over there…”
Joining in on the usual pro-war chorus on the Right, the Daily Beast ran a piece the day after President Trump met with Defense Secretary Mark Esper to discuss the possible deal titled, “The Taliban Are Laughing at Trump’s Afghan Peace Talks Bluff,” criticizing Trump’s ability to draw down the U.S. troop presence.
It’s pretty ironic to hear the wailing and lamentations coming from the establishment hive, but not necessarily surprising. When President Barack Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq, the usual suspects presented this as a president fulfilling his campaign promises. When Trump attempts to do the same in Afghanistan, he’s excoriated for “dangerous” and “precipitous” withdrawal, “misuse” of the National Security Council, and single-minded focus “on getting out of Afghanistan, no matter the consequences.”
Pundits and politicos’ efforts to frustrate the president’s designs are greatly aided by highly placed leakers. A piece in Time titled “Exclusive: Secretary of State Pompeo Declines to Sign Risky Afghan Peace Deal” quotes people familiar with these secret negotiations. They lay out for the magazine, point by point, exactly why Pompeo won’t sign the agreement.
These sources told the magazine that “the deal doesn’t ensure several crucial things, those familiar with the discussions tell Time. It doesn’t guarantee the continued presence of U.S. counterterrorism forces to battle al Qaeda, the survival of the pro-U.S. government in Kabul, or even an end to the fighting in Afghanistan.”
Who would have been in the room during a confidential discussion such as this? And who would have authorized the leaking of such confidential information to the press, within hours of President Trump meeting with the Secretary of Defense?
This story is made all the more interesting because there have been several stories, again sourced by unnamed, again highly placed officials, that Bolton was cut out of National Security Council meetings on the future of Afghanistan because there was concern he would derail the peace talks. A senior White House official told the Washington Post that Bolton’s “team have a reputation for losing and leaking.” Bolton only got a seat after one of his aides told chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and the meeting opened with Bolton and Trump disagreeing with each other on policy.
With all these leaks, it’s small wonder that the special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad reportedly refused to allow Bolton to leave the room with a copy of the nascent deal. Even that alleged action was leaked to the press.
You know things are dire when a CNN op-ed actually warns that Trump’s dismissal of Bolton will have dire consequences for national security because “shutting out Bolton because he has a different viewpoint could lead other officials to keep their complete analyses and opinions from the President for fear of being similarly sidelined… Externally, Bolton’s banishment signals to global counterparts that he may not be worth engaging with. This could lead US counterparts to go directly to Trump, rather than work through established channels that have built in vetting and discussion to determine viability….”
After so many highly placed sources leaking confidential information, here’s a few questions the media should be asking: Who stands to gain from all these leaks that Trump’s foreign policy is suffering because Bolton is out in the cold? Or the three-point leak on the specifics of Pompeo’s objections to the deal? Whose policy agenda is being served?
It’s shocking that the media has painted the problem as Trump’s advisors being ignored, instead of asking how negotiations could possibly flourish in an environment where everything that goes against one advisor’s (Bolton) opinion, is immediately leaked to the press.
Were the media to ask these questions, however, it might jeopardize the positions of their unnamed sources, as well as the agenda of a highly mobilized war establishment.
Barbara Boland is The American Conservative’s foreign policy and national security reporter. Follow her on Twitter @BBatDC.