Come prepared—very well prepared. And be brief—very brief.
That’s first-hand advice from Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, on having a productive conversation with US president Donald Trump.
“If you want to keep him (Trump) engaged, you better be informed—and communicate everything significant in two minutes,” Ghani said at an event at the Asia Society earlier this week on the sidelines of the UN general assembly.
The Afghan president said he had been on the phone with Trump a few times in recent months, presumably discussing the new US strategy in Afghanistan that the US unveiled in late August. Asked his impression of the US president, Ghani said, “Engaged, informed, and determined to see and hear.”
“But it requires immense preparation,” he added. “… If you have a message, don’t take more than two minutes to deliver it.”
Trump, of course, has had a few bizarre phone conversations with world leaders since taking office in January. In a Jan. 27 call with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, he reportedly said, “You have some pretty tough hombres in Mexico that you may need help with, and we are willing to help you with that big league.” The “tough hombres” referred to Mexican drug lords, on the lines of the “bad hombres” that Trump had spoken of during his election campaign.
The next day Trump reportedly told Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull: “Look, I spoke to Putin, Merkel, Abe of Japan, to France today, and this was my most unpleasant call because I will be honest with you.”
Trump’s tendency to be easily distracted is legendary. Tony Schwartz, who ghostwrote Trump’s bestseller, The Art of the Deal, said last year that the billionaire’s “attention span was so small it was almost impossible to have a strategic conversation with him about the business.” More recently, White House officials told the Washington Post (paywall) of their travails in getting their boss to pay attention to a topic. “I call the president the two-minute man,” a Trump confidant told the newspaper. “The president has patience for a half-page.”
Now, Ghani, too, has confirmed that the best conversations with Trump are short ones.