As political scientist Barnett Rubin, who has advised both the U.S. State Department and the United Nations on Afghanistan, told me, “no rational, conventional, predictable U.S. politician would take the political risks needed to negotiate seriously with the Taliban.”
Will a deal between the two sides hold? Can either Trump or the Taliban be trusted to stick to the terms of the agreement? Does it give away too much to the insurgents, in return for too little? Maybe. The bigger question, according to International Crisis Group President Robert Malley, is: What’s the alternative?
“The fact that the Taliban got so much out of the deal is not, primarily, a result of anything the Trump administration did,” Malley told me. “It is because, after two decades, the U.S. has failed to win an unwinnable war.”
For Malley, who was a senior foreign policy adviser to Obama, “it would have been far preferable if a deal had been reached years ago, when the Taliban were in a weaker position” but it would be “far worse if a deal were not reached now, based on the illusory belief that, somehow, the Taliban will be in a weaker position tomorrow.”