“Surrender is a strategy,” the eminent Eliot Cohen once quipped. And over the last week, it’s become clear that surrender is in fact the Trump administration’s new strategy in Afghanistan. During a period in which America’s attention has been focused on the Democratic primary elections and the coronavirus, the news from Afghanistan may turn out to be the most important development.
In fairness to President Trump, surrender is only part of his strategy. There’s more to his peace deal. There’s the surrender. Then there’s an apology from the United States. And then, the final leg of the stool is a suite of gifts from the United States to the Taliban which might charitably be considered a bribe or, uncharitably, reparations. This, from the president who is always telling people how “strong” he is.
Here’s the text:
the Taliban will take the following steps to prevent any group or individual, including al-Qa’ida, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies and, there will be Guarantees and enforcement mechanisms that will prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies.
Sounds great—except that the agreement does not describe a single one of those guarantees. Or an enforcement mechanism for what will happen should the mysterious guarantees not materialize, as promised.
What it does spell out, explicitly, is that the only real enforcement guarantee, American bullets, will be reduced: The coalition, according to the deal, will scale down its presence to 8,600 troops within 135 days and will remove them completely within 14 months.
So that’s the surrender. Here are the reparations: The United States will remove “the Taliban from the sanctions list with the aim of achieving this objective by May 29, 2020.” It gets worse:
The United States will seek economic cooperation for reconstruction with the new post-settlement Afghan Islamic government as determined by the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations, and will not intervene in its internal affairs.
Who will this reconstruction benefit? The “post-settlement Afghan Islamic government” will be a new regime that will include the Taliban and the current Afghan government, and the United States will seek economic cooperation with it—which, again, will include Taliban terrorists.
But maybe the most grotesque aspect of the new deal is the fact the United States—where regime change is old-and-busted and isolationism is the new hotness—under the leadership of the Trump administration is planning a new regime for Afghanistan.
Why is this form of regime change acceptable to Trump? Maybe it’s because he’s doing it without bothering to consult with the Afghan people and their legitimately elected government.
There is an odd line in the text of the deal that appears 16 times:
“the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban”
Why is this odd? Because while claiming that the United States does not recognize the Taliban as a state, the agreement functionally agrees that other parties recognize it as a state. And so the U.S. simply concedes to their nomenclature and elevating them to the level of statehood.
Again, without any say from the Afghan people and their democratically elected government—which is in power at the cost of American, allied nationals, and Afghan blood and treasures.
As the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin writes, “[i]nter-Afghan dialogue is long overdue.” But he is quick to add that “[i]f the Taliban want to talk, they should talk to Afghanistan’s elected government.” And the entire format of the negotiations has boxed out the Afghan government that is America’s ally.
And in addition to being a worst-practice just as far as geostragery goes—you’re supposed to reward your allies and punish your enemies, not vice versa—this is going to create problems with the implementation of the agreement, too.
For instance, the deal requires the United States to release 5,000 Taliban fighters. Which is bad. Except that the United States has no authority to release these prisoners. Those 5,000 fighters are interned by the Afghan government, and President Ashraf Ghani has already pledged not to release them.
To make things worse, hours after the agreement was announced, one of the Taliban’s chief negotiators promised that the terror group will continue its attacks on the democratically elected Afghan government. Which is—please note—somehow permissible under the agreement as written.
The Afghanistan War was and remains a winnable enterprise. But victory requires the cooperation of, and not sabotaging by the Pakistani government and pressuring it through economic coercion and diplomatic isolation to end their support of the Taliban.
But this is unlikely to happen. The Trump administration has decided on the worst kind of surrender. If Trump was willing to simply throw in the towel unconditionally and walk away, as Nixon did in Vietnam, then at least the Afghan government would have a shot to defend themselves.
Instead, the American president has decided to boost the Taliban and hobble our actual allies on the way out the door. It is as counterproductive as it is dishonorable.
But sadly, it is not surprising.