Last night, Taylor discussed the breaking news over the weekend that an official ceasefire with the Taliban in Afghanistan may be imminent. This likely came as a surprise to at least some observers who felt that the efforts at talks had essentially bogged down and recent attacks showed that we didn’t have an honest broker on the other side of the table anyway.
While voicing some deserved skepticism, Taylor generally regarded these developments as a positive sign and a credit to President Trump for being willing to start heading for the exit in America’s longest war. I wanted to briefly revisit a couple of his observations here.
It’s a step in the right direction even if it’s doubtful these negotiations are going to be tied up with a nice bow within ten days. The Afghanistan War has gone on too long with no end in sight. The fact a ceasefire appears to be in the future is no small feat. But that’s if it’s true, of course, as no one outside of the Associated Press is reporting the ceasefire…
It’s a well-deserved victory for the Trump Administration if it turns out a ceasefire is in place. Trump is more of a hawk than non-interventionists would prefer, and there’s always the fear he’ll exchange one war for another (see Iran), but this push for possible peace in Afghanistan is laudable.
I’m not criticizing the President for at least making the effort, but if we’re going to seriously move to extract ourselves from the Afghani quagmire, I think it’s important that we be honest with both ourselves and the rest of the world before setting this cart in motion. We should be able to quantify precisely what’s been accomplished, what failed and prepare everyone for what is almost certain to follow when America and her allies leave.
First, let’s deal with the positive news in terms of what the Afghanistan war actually accomplished. Osama bin Laden is dead, along with an endless list of his “number two” or “number three” minions in the AQ chain of command. And if we’re being honest, that’s what this war was all about from the beginning. We wanted revenge for 9-11 and after far too long of a wait we finally got it on May 2, 2011.
If we lived in a more restrained (and honest) world, that should have been the end of it. We should have had a plan in place to exit the country and begun executing it as soon as the DNA tests confirmed that OBL had officially reached room temperature and been dumped unceremoniously into the ocean.
But we didn’t do that and now more than eight additonal years have passed, bringing the deaths of who knows how many people on both sides. This brings us to the category of things that weren’t accomplished. Al Qaeda was not destroyed, though they were seriously weakened and scattered to disparate locations around the globe. The Taliban was not destroyed, not that we ever listed that as an official objective. We did not turn Afghanistan into a flowering hub of democracy and freedom. The government we established there was never generally accepted by the natives and never held much real power outside of a few urban centers.
The Taliban and their supplicants around the country have spent the last decade doing what they have always done. They’ve been waiting. They knew all along that we couldn’t stay there forever and we would eventually have to leave, so they’ve bided their time. They outlasted the Soviet Union and they knew they could outlast us. This is the recurring theme of how things have worked in that region for as long as there have been written records.
Leaving a small number of troops in Afghanistan isn’t a sane option. They’ll eventually be lost through attrition or simply by being overwhelmed. We either have to be in there with a big footprint or we have to be out. And when we’re out, we shouldn’t pretend that a rosy scenario awaits. The government we propped up will be overthrown by the Taliban very quickly, regardless of what they promise during any peace talks. The Taliban are unrepentant liars and they aren’t going to suddenly change their stripes now.
The small gains made in areas such as women’s rights and religious freedom will disappear. The people of Afghanistan have been living in a pre-dark ages society forever and that’s not going to change now. Without the muscle of the United States and our allies to enforce some limited measures of freedom, the country will go back to how it’s always been. And the world needs to be prepared for that eventuality.
So does that mean we have to stay? No. It doesn’t. OBL is dead and it’s long past time to get out of Dodge. And we do so knowing that a real mess and humanitarian disaster will follow. But that’s what Afghanistan is. It’s what it’s always been. And thinking that we could ever change that in a permanent fashion has been a fool’s errand from the beginning.