During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly took President Barack Obama to task for being a bad negotiator. Trump trashed all of Obama’s deals and was especially strident when Obama made public pronouncements on national security matters, particularly in the Middle East. In a March 2016 interview with the New York Times, Trump said: “Everything we do, we announce, instead of winning, and announcing when it’s all over. There’s such, total predictability of this country, and it’s one of the reasons we do so poorly.” In his second debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump berated the Obama administration for announcing that U.S. troops would aid the Iraqi military in an offensive on Islamic State-held Mosul:

The biggest problem I have with the stupidity of our foreign policy, we have Mosul. They think a lot of the ISIS leaders are in Mosul. So we have announcements coming out of Washington and coming out of Iraq, we will be attacking Mosul in three weeks or four weeks.
Well, all of these bad leaders from ISIS are leaving Mosul. Why can’t they do it quietly? Why can’t they do the attack, make it a sneak attack, and after the attack is made, inform the American public that we’ve knocked out the leaders, we’ve had a tremendous success? People leave. Why do they have to say we’re going to be attacking Mosul within the next four to six weeks, which is what they’re saying? How stupid is our country?

Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump insisted that his plans to eliminate the Islamic State would remain secret so as not to tip off the enemy. Clearly, he believed that opacity is the key to bargaining in world politics.

But fast-forward to 2019, and three things have become manifestly clear. First, almost all of Trump’s military announcements in the Middle East echo the Obama administration’s. Like the 44th president, the 45th is eager to avoid entanglements in Syria and has publicly promised to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan as soon as possible. This is not surprising — in expressing these preferences, Obama and Trump reflect the sentiment of the American people.

The State Department is about to capitulate to the Taliban, al-Qaeda’s longtime ally, in order to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, argues Rep. Liz Cheney. (The Washington Post)

Second, whatever semblance of a policy process that existed during Trump’s first few years on national security matters has evaporated. I warned back in May that Trump’s disenchantment with his hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, would have long-term consequences: “[Bolton] is not going to quit. Trump’s reluctance to be seen as the captain of an anarchic ship will make him more reluctant to fire Bolton than he otherwise would be. Which means we are likely to see the president undercutting his national security adviser — and vice versa — for the rest of 2019.”

Sure enough, my Washington Post colleagues John Hudson and Josh Dawsey made it clear last week just how bad the rift is among Trump’s advisers: “[Bolton’s] opposition to the diplomatic effort in Afghanistan has irritated President Trump, these officials said, and led aides to leave the National Security Council out of sensitive discussions about the agreement.”

How bad has it gotten? From their story:

In a recent standoff, Bolton asked for a copy of the draft agreement the United States is trying to strike with the Taliban. But the U.S. envoy leading the negotiations, Zalmay Khalilzad, denied the request, saying Bolton could read the agreement in the presence of a senior official but not leave with it in hand, U.S. officials said. One official said the incident infuriated Bolton, while another downplayed it, saying the draft was eventually sent to the National Security Council staff.

Speaking as someone who is about as far from a fan of Bolton as is humanly possible, this is a bananas situation. There is no way the national security adviser should be cut out of a policy discussion like this. Trump should fire Bolton rather than pull this kind of end-around.

The bigger problem is that it confirms to outside observers that there is no such thing as a reliable Trump surrogate. Trump told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham in the fall of 2017 that when it comes to diplomacy, “the one that matters is me. I am the only one that matters.” He has proved this point by repeatedly contradicting his foreign policy advisers. But Trump cannot negotiate everywhere at all times, so it means that on issues ranging from North Korea to China to Afghanistan, U.S. negotiating counterparts have an incentive to bide their time until Trump is in the room.

This leads us to the last and most important revelation about Trump’s negotiating strategy. Much as he castigated Obama for making announcements about deadlines and changes, Trump lacks the impulse control to keep his mouth shut on key bargains. And in repeatedly yapping his trap, Trump keeps sabotaging the U.S. bargaining position.

The best example of this over the past month has been Afghanistan. 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.

Think I am exaggerating? Take a look at what Politico’s Wesley Morgan reported last month:

Trump has repeatedly made it known he wants to remove all U.S. troops from the 18-year-old Afghan conflict, a topic he returned to Friday afternoon as his advisers briefed him on the status of peace talks with the Taliban.
But his public statements and leaks of his closed-door demands have weakened the hand of his negotiators by making it clear just how desperately the president wants a deal, according to multiple current and former U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the deliberations. ...
For example, just weeks after Trump named Khalilzad as his top envoy to the talks in December, Trump blindsided his advisers with instructions to pull half of the American troops out immediately — an order he was then talked out of giving.
“You appoint someone to be your primary negotiator who’s empowered to carry out these meetings, and then six weeks later you tell everyone you’re handing your adversary half of what they want for nothing?” asked a former defense official who was working on Afghanistan issues at the time.
“The timing couldn’t have been worse. It was severely damaging,” agreed a current military official with recent experience in Kabul. “We’ve probably gone double the rounds [of negotiations] because the Taliban were like, ‘Hey, you’re leaving anyway. Why should we negotiate?’ ”

The news from September sounds similar. The Daily Beast’s Sami Yousafzai, Erin Banco and Christopher Dickey filed a report Tuesday about the status of negotiations in Qatar between the Taliban and Khalilzad:

The longer the talks go on, the clearer it is that the Taliban have the final say. They know Trump is desperate to leave, and they are determined not only to remain a power in their country, but to re-establish what they call the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
“The Taliban have been rather rude with the U.S. throughout the peace process because they have the impression that a withdrawal deal is a desperate desire of the USA, not the Taliban,” says a senior European diplomat in Kabul. “Imagine how rudely and offensively the Taliban will treat the already upset and isolated President [Ashraf] Ghani.”
Presumably there will be some agreement in the not too distant future as the Taliban give Trump enough concessions to save face, but they know what they call the “evacuation” of all American forces, whether in uniform or as covert or contract operatives, will demoralize the U.S.-backed regime in Kabul and especially the Afghan military and security forces. ...
“We’re going down to 8,600 and then we make a determination from there as to what happens,” Trump told Fox News Radio last week. Obviously aware how unsatisfying such arrangements are for supporters who want a definitive end to America’s longest war, Trump also repeated his thought that the U.S. could win that war “so fast, if I wanted to kill 10 million people ... which I don’t.”
Such hollow threats only play into the hands of Taliban propagandists who already benefit from what they portray as U.S. disregard for civilian casualties and U.S. Special Envoy Khalilzad’s overstated optimism.

Indeed, it is the Taliban, rather than the United States, that seems willing to press its advantage on the ground to secure a better deal in the negotiating room.

One could argue that the conflict in Afghanistan has gone on so long that even a bad withdrawal bargain is better than the status quo. I would disagree, but that’s a topic for policy debate. What cannot be in dispute is that Trump is going about this in the worst way possible. The man who criticized Obama for making policy announcements loudly and repeatedly shows his weak cards to everyone else at the poker game. He is losing all America’s chips at the global bargaining table. He is a terrible negotiator surrounded by a dysfunctional team.

Clearly, I have become sick and tired of all the winning.