Shockingly naïve – or simply disingenuous, it really makes no difference. The US State Department is offering useless appeals to Afghan peace in the wake of a humanitarian crisis – led by Taliban violence – that they created. What a lesson in how not to conduct foreign policy.
To be clear, having set up the original US police training programs in seven Afghan locations, creating conditions for peace was always a steep climb. Minimal education, high poverty, corruption, drug and human trafficking, scant respect for life all made that mission hard.
But from the outset, that was the goal, however incremental our progress. Should the Afghan government have been brought in sooner?
Yes. Should the Taliban have been forced to the table faster, even if power-sharing is imperfect? Yes.
Was the US-NATO-Obama-Trump approach realistic – a peace accord, Taliban severing al Qaeda ties, power-sharing, civil order with provincial flare-ups, gradual troop drawdowns with Afghan security increasingly controlling the country? Hard to know.
Maybe not, but that “exit strategy” parallels successful hand-offs in other war-torn regions, leveraging peace with presence, reintegration of combatants not guilty of heinous crimes, reliance on new institutions to maintain rule of law, and then withdrawal. The Afghan endgame was never intended to be cut-and-run but graduated – with method, not madness.
Now, we are watching an unfolding human tragedy, women and children killed, provincial capitals falling, tightening ties between Taliban and al Qaeda, Army and police massacred, a desperate people who hoped on our promises – no backup.
The Biden promise of support for the Afghan people via a carrier battlegroup has proved empty, another fumbling fib. The Biden promise to leverage peace seems bad fiction, at best a self-deception to justify abandoning a people who have no options and who trusted us.
If the idea of peace talks – based on mission completion, issue resolution, support for the Afghan government – was imperfect, sure to face backsteps (as all transitions do), it was an endgame.
Abandonment, promoting the fake idea that peace is somehow still possible, as the Taliban overwhelms Afghan defenses, slaughters those who believed in the United States – is a disgrace.
Where this misguided decision leads is not good, to a return of terror in that nation – and as we remember the 20th anniversary of 9-11 – possibly wider terror projection. All they need is a base. Now, they again have one.
Facts tell the sad story better than analysis. Republicans and Democrats both know what is coming.
They know Afghanistan is gone, Pakistan and India confront fresh risks, Iran and China are beneficiaries, terrorism likely to reseed, then ricochet. Allies doubt US resolve.
Concretely, things are dissolving. Explosions continue around the country, including near the Defense Minister’s home on August 3. Taliban shooters are entering the homes of those in parliament. Fighting rages around Lashkar Gah (in southern Afghanistan), dozens of civilians killed.
Commandos and police are being executed, and cities abandoned. Women and girls are at huge risk, their educations also halted. Taliban now claims 85 percent control.
As this occurs, our President and Vice President are silent. Secretary of State Blinken pleads for an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process,” as if that plea has any chance of being heard. He says the US remains “engaged,” kindly asks the Taliban to the “negotiating table to resolve the conflict peacefully.” Really?
Perhaps we should just kindly ask China to stop militarizing the world and pushing ugly communism? Or Iran to set aside nuclear ambitions and terror practices? Russia to kindly back off Ukraine, all three please stop their cyberattacks. Of course, that is it – we need only ask.
More realistically, State announced on August 2 that they would attempt relocating Afghans who helped us, getting them out. While thousands may be saved, others will not be. The outlined process is time-consuming, and visa applicants must shelter in countries like Turkey – which says they will not “bear the burden.” Where was forethought?
Is this proactive diplomacy? World leadership? Promotion of peace and security? Is this how we create global trust and deterrence, protect allies, live up to promises, plan the future, demonstrate strength? As the Taliban continues war crimes and the 9-11 anniversary creeps forward, one is hard-pressed to see any of this in a positive light.
Looking back is painful, as opportunities for peace were lost. Looking forward is more painful. The saddest part is Republicans and Democrats, regional experts, seasoned diplomats, general officers, former high-ranking civilian leaders – all predicted this.
In short, this was an avoidable humanitarian, national and regional security crisis. The alternative was laboring mightily to achieve that elusive, hard-to-exact peace, not losing leverage but using it in this war-torn land for an impoverished, hopeful, now hopeless people.
What can be done now? Lessons can be learned, resolve, reasserted elsewhere, defenses hardened against what may grow. Allies can be consulted, refugees can be protected, and preparation made for the second-order effects of this misstep.
At this moment, terrorists swarm areas formerly controlled by US-trained troops and police; major cities continue to fall, China angles for ways to abscond with precious resources, 1,500 Russian and Uzbek troops drill on the Afghan border, another thousand head for Tajikistan, Pakistan, and India gird for what comes next, and Iran looks for advantage. See, e.g., Taliban Seize Afghan Provincial Capital Just Weeks Before Final U.S. Withdrawal; Afghan Air Force pilot killed in Kabul bombing, attack claimed by Taliban; Jaishankar discusses Afghanistan situation with Iran President; Iran Sets Its Eyes on Afghanistan; Taliban capture key Afghanistan border crossings; After the withdrawal: China’s interests in Afghanistan; China Offers the Taliban a Warm Welcome While Urging Peace Talks.
The truth is, we had an advantage, and we lost it; we had our finger in the dike and pulled it. The resulting images, ignominy, and avoidable tragedy for innocents – now belong to Biden.
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