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Trump's Taliban invite another bold risk that's unraveled

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s weekend tweet canceling secret meetings at Camp David with the Taliban and Afghan leaders just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is the latest example of a commander in chief willing to take a big risk in pursuit of a foreign policy victory only to see it dashed.

What had seemed like an imminent deal to end the war has unraveled, with Trump and the Taliban blaming each other for the collapse of nearly a year of U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha, Qatar.

The insurgents are promising more bloodshed. The Afghan government remains mostly on the sidelines of the U.S. effort to end America’s longest war. And as Trump’s reelection campaign heats up, his quest to withdraw the remaining 14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan remains unfulfilled.

Trump said he axed the Camp David meetings and called off negotiations because of a recent Taliban bombing near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that killed a U.S. service member, even though nine other Americans have died since June 25 in Taliban-orchestrated violence.

Trump’s secret plan for high-level meetings at the presidential retreat in Maryland resembled other bold, unorthodox foreign policy initiatives — with North Korea, China and Iran — that the president has pursued that have yet to bear fruit.

“When the Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country, President Trump made the right decision to say that’s not going to work,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who appeared Sunday on five TV news shows.

“If the Taliban don’t behave, if they don’t deliver on the commitments that they’ve made to us now for weeks and in some cases months, the president of the United States is not going to reduce the pressure,” Pompeo said.

Trump’s three high-profile meetings with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un — including the president’s recent brief footsteps onto North Korean soil — prompted deep unease from many quarters, including his conservative base in Congress.

And while the meetings produced the ready-for-television visuals that Trump is known to relish, negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled for months with no tangible progress in getting the North to abandon its nuclear weapons.

Trump’s offers to hold talks with the Iranian leadership have similarly met with no result and Iran has moved ahead with actions that violate the 2015 nuclear deal that the president withdrew from last year.

With China, Trump has vigorously pursued a trade war, imposing billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese imports that have yet to force a retreat by Beijing. So far, the discussions have unsettled financial markets and have resulted in retaliatory steps by both Beijing and Washington.

Pompeo defended Trump’s foreign policy, depicting it as tough diplomacy, rather than naivete or inexperience.

“He walked away in Hanoi from the North Koreans where they wouldn’t do a deal that made sense for America,” Pompeo said. “He’ll do that with the Iranians. When the Chinese moved away from the trade agreement that they had promised us they would make, he broke up those conversations, too.”

Democrats said Trump’s decision to nix a deal with the Taliban was evidence that he was moving too quickly to get one.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the talks were ill-conceived from the start because they haven’t yet involved the Afghan government.

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the government its sees as illegitimate and a puppet of the West so the Trump administration tried another approach, negotiating with the Taliban first to get a deal that would lead to Taliban talks with Afghans inside and outside the government.

“It’s another example of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, which is a high-wire act that ultimately is focused on Trump as a persona but not in the strategic, methodical effort of creating peace,” Menendez said.

Criticism of the Camp David plan was not limited to Democrats or “Never Trump” Republicans.

“Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after al Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, killed 3000 Americans on 9/11,” tweeted Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. “No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever.”

A U.S. official familiar with the Taliban negotiations said the “very closely held” idea of a Camp David meeting was first discussed a week and a half ago when Trump huddled with his national security team and other top advisers to talk about Afghanistan. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Some administration officials, including national security adviser John Bolton, did not back the agreement with the Taliban as it was written, the official said. Bolton does not think the Taliban can be trusted. Bolton advised the president to draw down the U.S. force to 8,600 — enough to counter terror threats — and “let it be” until a better deal could be hammered out, the official said.

Pompeo said he didn’t know if Trump will follow through on his pledge to reduce the number of U.S. troops there from 14,000 to 8,600.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had recently announced that he had reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban. The U.S. would withdraw about 5,000 U.S. troops within 135 days of signing the deal. In exchange, the insurgents agreed to reduce violence and prevent Afghanistan from being used as a launch pad for global terror attacks, including from local Islamic State affiliate and al-Qaida.

Pompeo said the Taliban agreed to break with al-Qaida — something that past administrations have failed to get the Taliban to do. The insurgent group had hosted al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as he masterminded the 9/11 attacks. After the attacks, the U.S. ousted the Taliban, who had ruled Afghanistan with a harsh version of Islamic law from 1996 to 2000.

But problems quickly emerged. Even as Khalilzad explained the deal to the Afghan people during a nationally televised interview, the Taliban detonated a car bomb targeting a compound in Kabul where many foreign contactors lived.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office responded with loud objections, agreeing with several former U.S. ambassadors who warned that a hasty U.S. withdrawal without Taliban guarantees on ending violence could lead to “total civil war.”

Far from guaranteeing a cease-fire, the deal included only a reduction in violence in Kabul and neighboring Parwan province, where the U.S. has a military base.

Then on Thursday, a second Taliban car bomb exploded in Kabul and killed 12 people including a U.S. service member. Khalilzad abruptly returned to Qatar for at least two days of negotiations with the Taliban, but has since been recalled to Washington.

The Afghan government says it doesn’t believe talks between the United States and Taliban will continue “at this stage.” It is bracing for Sept. 28 presidential elections, which the Taliban have threatened to disrupt with violence.

Trump’s suspension of the negotiations “will harm America more than anyone else,” the Taliban said in a statement. “It will damage its reputation, unmask its anti-peace policy to the world even more, increase its loss of life and treasure and present its political interactions as erratic.”


Local
Best Buddies promotes inclusion with special education students, hosts Buddy Bowl

More Information Visit bestbuddies.org for more information about the Best Buddies organization.

Joshua Silva greeted Robert E. Lee High School students with fist-bumps and high-fives as they entered the building at Times Square Grand Slam to participate in Buddy Bowl, a bowling tournament hosted by Lee’s Best Buddies organization.

Dozens of students from the school’s general education and special education programs laughed, danced and bonded over strikes, spares and pizza during the course of the Thursday event, cheering each other on as they bowled, and building camaraderie.

Silva, a Lee senior and co-president of Best Buddies, said Buddy Bowl was a fun way for special education students to meet and greet general education students in a neutral environment. It also gave students interested in joining the organization the opportunity to sign up for the 2019-20 school year.

Second-year Best Buddies member and special education student, Bret Lee, said his favorite part of the night was “making friends and having fun.”

Best Buddies is an international program where students learn to build one-to-one friendships with fellow classmates who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The organization was brought to Lee last fall by Silva, a voluntary student aide with special education classes, and adaptive behavior teacher Austin Doyle to promote inclusion and friendship between general education and special education students.

“It’s known, if you ask anybody that’s gone through the public school system, that there’s always the group of special education kids. They’re by themselves … and we’re tired of it,” Silva said. “We wanted to facilitate friendships among everybody.”

Doyle, who participated in Best Buddies in college, thought of the idea to start a Best Buddies chapter at Lee after seeing how accommodating general education students were toward special education students on campus.

“Our students are just amazing students that really want to get involved,” Doyle said. “We gave them the opportunity to get involved and they’re really stepping up to the plate.”

What started as an idea quickly turned into a full-fledged movement after Doyle asked Silva to preside over the organization and they began recruiting members.

“We broke the 100-member mark in about (the first) two months last year,” Doyle said.

Though the organization is known internationally for pairing one-to-one friendships, Lee’s chapter has grown so rapidly that they now facilitate two-to-one friendships, consisting of two general education students for every one special education student.

Friendships between special and general education students are formed based on a compatibility survey and are finalized by a group of student officers and Doyle, the organization’s faculty adviser.

Throughout the year, Best Buddies hosts a variety of events for its members based around holidays, school functions and events unique to the organization to strengthen friendships and provide opportunities for students to hang out in a fun and friendly environment.

“We’ve started including each other as a family,” Silva said. “That’s really what we are.”

From hosting Friends-giving, a Valentine’s Day party, their own homecoming dance and even Buddy Bowl, based around the Lee vs. John Tyler football game this past week, each gathering is designed to bridge the gap between general education and special education students and create a safe, positive and inclusive space for everyone involved.

“I love the idea because it gives these kids a chance to interact with their peers that they don’t have in their classroom,” said Angela Buttram, mother of special education student Nicholas Buttram. “I’m just grateful to all the kids that come and pair up with our special needs children. It really means a lot to them.”

Doyle said, “At the end of the day we’re promoting inclusion in the community, on campus with our students, and it’s just hard to beat.”

Doyle and Silva have a vested interest in helping special education students because they both have younger sisters with disabilities.

Silva’s sister, Alyssa Silva, who had epilepsy and forms of psychosis, passed away in 2018 at the age of 14. He said her legacy is what motivates him to continue spreading the word about inclusion through Best Buddies.

“I’m working to honor my sister and push forward all the knowledge she gave me in 14 years, because I didn’t realize there were two worlds and two sides of this community until she was gone,” he said. “I want to make sure that everybody doesn’t see them as their disability, but that they see them as the amazing phenomenal people that they are.”

Referencing his own sister, Doyle said, “Growing up, it was my favorite thing working with her and it turned into a profession.”

Though the organization has grown leaps and bounds in its first year, Doyle plans to increase membership from 120 students to 175 students throughout the school year, and to expand the reach of Best Buddies by forming chapters at other area schools.

“Our plan is to get it to Whitehouse, Lindale, even John Tyler and some of the schools within Tyler ISD,” he said. “We’re all about promoting inclusion on campus and in the community.”

TWITTER: @Tylerpaper


Local
Five Questions with David Wallace, who turns ordinary objects into extraordinary art

David Wallace, of Tyler, often creates art using common and discarded objects. His work has been exhibited at Gallery Main Street and in other spaces.

He has held classes to help others tap into their artistic creativity and find joy through art.

On many a Thursday, Wallace sets up and paints on the downtown Tyler square during Tunes at Noon.

Why did you first take up creating art?

Although I have always dabbled with art, I never felt compelled to make art a priority. Art created me. At age 55, we sold our longtime country home and moved into a urban space in downtown Tyler. That was nearly 10 years ago. We gave all our country decor away and now needed a lot of things to decorate our new industrial space.

I spotted some interesting objects in the trash at the restaurant next door and decided to try and create something to decorate the 2,500-square-foot space we now called home. It was a successful attempt.

Everybody loved it and they told me I should continue to create more pieces of similar art. I did continue and one thing led to another. There was a time in the beginning, when I would start another assemblage, that my wife would see me working at the dining table and exclaim, “Oh no, not another one!” She soon got used to the sight, as many others began commissioning me to create an assemblage for them.

I’ve sold many pieces over the last 10 years. Our home is filled to the brim. Some pieces are stacked leaning on walls.

I often do shows that require a number of pieces of art to be displayed. I am now recognized in public as “that artist guy” and art is definitely a top priority.

You are known for incorporating discarded objects in art collages. How did that happen?

I explained that how the need for decor had driven me to create art and that we needed a lot. Buying art supplies can be very expensive. I was just trying to keep the cost to a minimum by utilizing materials that were free for the taking. I didn’t even know that there was a name for my art form. It is known as an assemblage.

What I do with my assemblages is not unheard of, but it is a little uncommon. After hearing so many comments from artists telling me that my art looked a lot like Louise Nevelson, I went on the internet. She was very famous and a cutting-edge artist. I love her work. You should check her out for yourself.

What are the more unusual items that you have used?

I would answer that the items I use are not unusual at all. In fact, they are very common objects. That is part of the appeal. I love watching people as they observe the art and discover the items I have utilized. My art is mostly created from things we all discard everyday.

Recycling has become an issue that is important to me as creating art. The amount of trash we are filling our landfills with is staggering. It is a problem that is costing so much now and into the future. Anything you can do is better than nothing.

My art is “Green Art.” Sometimes I will add a special found object, but I liked to deconstruct it into small pieces and then add it to the mix. I am always amazed when people can reconstruct it in their minds and recognize its presence.

Someone might ask, “Is that a toy army tank or was that a computer mouse?” One time I created two large pieces of art made from Styrofoam, cardboard, and my old underwear and T-shirts. They now hang in a beautiful South Tyler home. I named them “Tidy Whities #1” and “Tidy Whities #2.”

You often paint during Tunes at Noon on the square in downtown Tyler. What are people’s reactions to your art?

Have you ever seen the look of amazement on the face of a child? It is priceless!

That response is what keeps me creating this art form. It never fails to appeal to all. No matter young or old, male or female, or any ethnicity, it seems to appeal to everyone.

Remember finding the hidden items in a picture in the children’s Highlights Magazine, from years ago? What fun it was! That is the reaction I always get! I always place a book out and encourage people to write a comment.

The comments are always fantastic. I keep waiting for someone to make a negative remark, but it never happens. I feel very blessed.

How do you believe your common-object art pieces expand the idea of what art is and could be?

It’s not a new art form. The assemblage has been around for a very long time. Even Picasso created some very famous works. As far as what art is, we are still trying to figure the answer to that question.

Art continues to evolve, even into the age of computers and beyond. There is a science devoted to the study of objects and their effect on us. We tend to visualize our world through shapes and colors. Our minds search for patterns and repeating patterns.

It is commonly believed that humans are the only species on the planet that create art for the sake of pleasure. Art for the sake of art. There is an artist in all of us, just waiting to be discovered. I always like to say, “There is art in every heart.” Just look for it. It is there!