There is no end in sight for the long U.S. military slog in Afghanistan. Things appeared on the rocks before President Donald Trump announced secret talks between the Taliban, U.S., and Afghanistan government were scuttled over a bombing in Kabul. The Afghani government was already irked about the deal in principle reached between the U.S. and Taliban last week. America is still hoping for some kind of peace deal even if the violence has escalated this year.
It’s not just Afghanistan politicians who are angry about any sort of ceasefire. South Carolina U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham has long decried any notion of a peace deal which doesn’t put “America First.”
“Any deal that calls for withdrawing our forces completely from Afghanistan is a bad deal for the United States.,” Graham and retired Army General Jack Keane wrote in The Washington Post last month. “We must be clear: The United States should never outsource its national security to anyone, especially the Taliban. That is a possible outcome, however, as the United States and the Taliban continue talks in Doha, Qatar. We cannot rely on the Taliban for security; we have lost too many soldiers at Taliban hands for that. The Afghan war must end on our terms, not the Taliban’s.”
There is a danger to Graham’s thinking, especially when using the phrase “our terms” because of its elasticity.
Trump’s foreign policy tends to run the gamut between attempted disengagement to possible escalation to keeping the status quo (see Syria). His Afghanistan policy has followed a similar arc with Trump saying in 2017 his instincts were to get out but he wanted to “fight to win” to ordering the removal of 7K troops in 2018 to reports he wanted all troops out by 2020 to deciding America will “always have troops” in Afghanistan last month. The whiplash is understandable!
The other elasticity is the fact Trump is not guaranteed victory in next year’s presidential election. A different administration might try another surge or something else entirely. They might scuttle the peace process Trump’s Administration is attempting despite the emotional pendulum from the Oval Office.
Mayhaps it’s best for Trump to turn his rhetorical, “How many more decades are they willing to fight?” question inward and ask how long America wants to stay in Afghanistan. We’ve been there almost two decades and a countless number of American soldiers and civilians are dead. Graham should also consider this rhetorical question in earnest before writing another piece advocating for ending war “the right way,” whatever that means. The idea of the victory sought by former President George W. Bush for the September 11th attacks appears to have long disappeared or abandoned in exchange for saving face. There’s no chance to get it back either. Too many people are dead both at home and on the battlefield. Too many lives are ruined.
Was it wise for Trump to invite, then uninvite the Taliban and Afghanistan politicians to Camp David? Let’s go with the idea Trump is telling the truth about the negotiations, first. The notion of talks inside a vacuum isn’t a bad idea because it gives negotiators the chance to sit down and get to know each other. Camp David has been used as a diplomatic site before particularly by Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Some people are mad the U.S. even considered talks with the Taliban but the negotiations have been going on for months. Publicly canceling them may be a mistake, even if it feeds into Trump’s belief he’s some sort of master negotiator. Of course, negotiating real estate deals is a lot different than foreign affairs negotiations (see China).
What’s going on with America and Afghanistan is not unlike the situation in Syria with Russia. Both countries are propping up an established government against insurgents although Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani appears to be a better person than Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian Army and Afghan security forces have sullied reputations due to accusations of human rights violations. The established governments are fighting insurgent groups which have connections with terrorism: Afghanistan is dealing with the Taliban while Syria is battling Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army. The peace process is dragging on in both countries. ISIS presents a problem.
The War in Afghanistan needs to end and end quickly. Trump’s desire for a troop pullout is laudable and a goal worth achieving. The decision to end the peace process is disappointing, and will hopefully only be temporary. The alternative is more war and more dead Americans.