AILSA CHANG, HOST:
President Trump says efforts to forge a peace deal in Afghanistan are dead.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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. When I heard, very simply, that they killed one of our soldiers and 12 other innocent people, I said, there's no way I'm meeting on that basis. There's no way I'm meeting.
CHANG: That's the president earlier today. On Saturday, he tweeted that he had secretly invited Taliban and Afghan leaders to Camp David. They were just hours from that meeting, and then he called it off because of that attack in Kabul. The episode raises many questions, like what happens to the roughly 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan now? And where does this leave President Trump, who campaigned on ending America's longest war? We're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hey, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there, Ailsa.
CHANG: So this whole episode has been confusing. I mean, no one even knew about this planned meeting at Camp David before Trump announced it by canceling it, right?
LIASSON: Right. It was very controversial inside of the administration. We've learned there - the vice president and like the idea. John Bolton, the national security adviser, didn't like the idea. But Trump does have a predilection for the big showy meeting. He likes to have the televised spectacle meeting with Kim Jong Un. He's talked about meeting with the Iranians with no preconditions. And he also bristles at the notion that anyone is advising him or contributing to the decision. You heard him say it was his idea alone. He said he took his own advice.
CHANG: But here we are. Trump not only canceled the summit; he's also pulled the plug on negotiations. He called them dead. So where does this leave his Afghanistan policy?
LIASSON: Well, that's a good question. He says he pulled the plug because of that terror attack that killed a U.S. soldier, but the Taliban has been attacking Afghans during the entire peace negotiations with - which the president has authorized. And he's never complained before. But the idea of a peace deal with the Taliban was controversial inside the administration, and also, the Afghan government didn't like it. They felt they were being sidelined.
And it's possible that now Trump is in a better position because if he wants to, he could still pull out of Afghanistan without a peace deal while leaving a residual force there. But it comes at a cost because he announced that he was willing to meet without preconditions with the Taliban, the terrorist group that harbored the 9/11 attackers, on the anniversary week of 9/11. And he took a lot of criticism for that.
CHANG: Right. I mean, doesn't Trump want to get out of Afghanistan no matter what, no matter if a deal is reached or not?
LIASSON: Well, that's a good question. He's certainly still could pull out troops, leaving a residual force there without making a deal with the Taliban. That might be a better place for him to land. He could pull out without the criticism of making a deal with the Taliban that could go wrong. Today he said, we're hitting the Taliban harder than we ever have. But he also really struggled today when he was asked to define what victory would look like in Afghanistan. And here's what he said.
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TRUMP: We beat them militarily, but as soon as we leave, it seems to form again. We would beat them very easily militarily if we wanted to by doing certain things. I'm not talking nuclear. We could have that over with very, very rapidly. But you'd lose millions and millions of lives, and I don't want to do that.
LIASSON: But what does he want to do? And that's the big question. This is not the first time a U.S. president has struggled to define what a victory looks like in a war against insurgents after promising a simple solution during a campaign.
CHANG: True. But what does this collapse of these talks with the Taliban - what do they say about Trump's overall track record as a dealmaker, you think?
LIASSON: Well he hasn't had a very good track record. He hasn't made a lot of deals. He seems to like the spectacle of having the meeting more than actually bringing home the deal, whether it's with North Korea. He's talked about talking to Iran or now Afghanistan. So there really haven't been a lot of deals. The one that he has concluded, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement was a small tweak of NAFTA, kind of a rebranding. And he hasn't gotten that ratified by Congress yet.
CHANG: That's right. All right. That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you very much.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.