Thursday, August 26, 2021

Literary Corner: Isn't That a Very Sad Thing?

Pompeo and Baradar in Doha, 2020, via Economist.

Trump's original report on his call of 3 March 2020, four days after the signing of the Doha Agreement on the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and swap of prisoners between the Taliban and the Afghan government (which was not a party to the talks, but ultimately complied and released 5,100 Taliban prisoners as US promised), and three days before the Taliban resumed its attacks on Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, leading by June to the worst ANDSF losses in the history of the war:

Trump confirmed the Taliban’s announcement Tuesday that he had spoken by phone with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s top political leader.

“I spoke to the leader of the Taliban today. We had a good conversation. We’ve agreed there’s no violence, we don’t want violence; we’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “They’re dealing with Afghanistan, but we’ll see what happens. We had actually a very good talk.”...

“I’ll be meeting personally with Taliban leaders in the not-too-distant future. And we’ll be very much hoping that they will be doing what they say they’re going to be doing: They will be killing [presumably ISIS] terrorists,” Trump said. “They will be killing some very bad people. They will keep that fight going.”

How he remembers it now, in conversation with Hugh Hewitt:

A Very Scary Question

by Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America

I spoke to, and sort of the known
head, but nobody was sure, but now
I'm sure, and I was sure then when I
was speaking to him. I say ... you will be
hit harder than any country and any person
has ever been hit in world history. And we
will start with the exact location and the
exact town, and it's right here. And I believe
I repeated the name of his town. That will be
the first place that we start. And I won't
be able to speak to you anymore after that, and
isn't that a very sad thing? But that is the story.
And then he asked me one question, and I'd
rather not repeat that question, because
it's a very scary question. But he asked me
one question, and I gave him the answer yes.
And then after it was all done, I said okay,
now I've said what I'm going to say. Let's
have a conversation. And I said we're going
to be leaving after 21 years. And when we leave,
you're going to leave us alone, and we're going
to leave with great dignity and great honor. And
we are going to take care of this situation.

He really doesn't remember it very well, obviously, but in a way that's an advantage, since what actually happened isn't the story (of "great dignity and great honor"—in his imagined conversations with Muslim leaders he always sounds like the movie version of the Great White Father in Washington negotiating with Comanches) that he wants to tell. He doesn't even remember when it was, after the negotiations were completed and the deal signed, when you'd hardly be uncertain whether you were talking to the "known head" or not, or threatening to have your interlocutor killed, but it's more to his purpose to make it during the process, when he'd have been displaying his foresight and toughness, if he'd actually been involved, which I suppose he hardly was. Caring about the outcome was Pompeo's job, if anybody's.

What he does know for certain is that Hewitt hasn't done any homework and won't be able to ask him any followups.

The Trumpiest bit is that hint of unspeakable mystery, the scary question and equally scary answer—I'm convinced he has no idea what kind of question it would be, and that's the real reason he won't repeat it. But it's also pretty funny the way he finishes saying "what I'm going to say" and then invites Baradar to join him in conversation, when he's going to say more.

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