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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Donald Trump's team trying to make Afghan "progress" report real

President Donald Trump, center, with Afghan President Ashraf

President Donald Trump, center, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, second from the right, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, right, while addressing members of the military during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

During his recent first visit to Afghanistan, President Donald Trump took part in a Thanksgiving meal with U.S. troops.

He also dished out a helping of homemade political spin.

"The Taliban wants to make a deal, and we're meeting with them," he said in a head-to-head talk with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

"And they want to make a deal very badly … Now they want to do a cease-fire. … We’ve made tremendous progress."

At first it sounded like fake news. Ghani gave no immediate indication his domestic foes would grant the necessary cease-fire. Nobody seemed able to specify what the president was talking about.

But soon the Taliban, in a welcome developent, confirmed there were talks afoot about holding face-to-face talks. And last Wednesday, special U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in the Afghan capital Kabul for what he called an “accelerated effort” to resume negotiations on how a postwar Afghanistan might work. On Saturday, discussions were resuming in Doha.

Cause for skepticism remains, of course. Debatable claims that the other side is eager for a deal have become a Trump trademark. 

On May 27, Trump said: “I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal, and I think that’s very smart of them, and I think that’s a possibility to happen.” But last week, President Hassan Rouhani said U.S. sanctions would have to be lifted first, which of course doesn't meet U.S. conditions.

On June 5, Trump said he still believed North Korea "would like to make a deal" on nuclear weapons. But it didn't sound that way last week, when the Kim Jong-Un regime resumed using the term "dotard" to describe Trump.

On June 29, Trump said of the Palestinians: “I know they want to make a deal, but they want to be a little bit cute — and that is OK.” But no serious talks with Israel are in sight.

Last Monday, Trump said of the current tariff war: "The Chinese want to make a deal. We’ll see what happens... In some ways I like the idea of waiting until after the election for the China deal.”

Also last week he said: "Russia wants very much to make a deal on arms control and nuclear." Does it?

So it has little impact when Trump says: "The Taliban wants to make a deal. We'll see if they make a deal. If they do, they do, and if they don't, they don't. That's fine."

Three months ago, Trump endured blowback after he sought to host the Taliban at Camp David just as the United States was about to mark another 9/11 anniversary. 

Supposedly, both sides were to finalize a peace deal that had been reached in principle. Then came another violent Taliban attack that killed a U.S. soldier and civilians.

Even Vice President Mike Pence let it be known he opposed the tone-deaf Camp David choice.

Whatever comes of Trump's holiday tidings, at least he returned from his Thanksgiving trip with nice video for his campaign.

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