WASHINGTON — Imagine if, back in 2011, President Barack Obama had not only withdrawn all U.S. forces from Iraq, facilitating the rise of the Islamic State, but also invited Islamic State leaders to Camp David to sign an agreement cementing his withdrawal plan. Obama's decision to pull out American troops was catastrophic, but even he was not dumb enough to seek a photo op with terrorists. Yet this is precisely what President Trump tried to do when he initially invited the Taliban to Camp David for a meeting this past weekend.
Here is the image that would have been broadcast across the Muslim world: Taliban leaders sitting at the very table where U.S. officials planned the overthrow of their regime, accepting what they would have portrayed as the terms of the United States' surrender — right before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The propaganda victory for the Taliban would have been enormous, sending a message of U.S. weakness and emboldening terrorists across the world.
It gets worse. The Taliban team with whom the Trump administration has been negotiating includes five senior Taliban commanders — the "Taliban Five" — who were held at Guantanamo for 13 years before Obama freed them in exchange for U.S. Army deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
These are murderous terrorists with American blood on their hands. It is an outrage that Obama freed them. But for Trump to even consider allowing leaders of a designated terrorist organization to set foot in Camp David is worse than an outrage; it is an insult to all those who died on 9/11 and the American troops who gave their lives fighting them in Afghanistan.
It was only the Taliban's brutality — launching a suicide attack that killed an American service member on the eve of the Camp David summit — that prevented this debacle from unfolding. After the attack, Trump canceled the summit and tweeted, "What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?" Terrorists, Mr. President — that's who.
The administration claims the Taliban had agreed to break with al-Qaida and prevent them from re-establishing a haven in Afghanistan. The Taliban made the same promise in the 1990s, before 9/11. After the attacks, its leaders were given a choice: Break with al-Qaida, or lose your regime. They chose to lose their regime. The Taliban will never break with al-Qaida.
By killing an American soldier, Taliban leaders were rubbing the United States' defeat in Trump's face. That move backfired. Trump now says the Taliban talks "are dead." Let's hope so — and that with the death of those talks dies one of the most shameful moments of the Trump presidency.
Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.