Opinion / Politics

President Trump is Right – Time to Push Peace in Afghanistan

peacePresident Trump is doggedly seeking a workable peace in Afghanistan. He is right to do so, but the process will be hard. In the late 1990s, work in Colombia led to a bipartisan push for stability, demobilization, and eventually peace – but backsteps were many. Later, working for Colin Powell at State, we trained law enforcement in Colombia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Peace was always the goal but often elusive.
The endgame is harder to achieve than to conceive.

Realistically, peace after a prolonged insurgency is difficult to enforce. Feelings run deep; losses loom large. Regrets constantly resurface. Once an agreement is inked, implementation begins – but participants often stumble. Getting things done is harder than agreeing to do them.

The process of making peace real involves putting down arms, stepping back from violence, asserting self-discipline and patience, suppressing natural fear. Once accustomed to war, combatants are resistant to disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration.

Objectively, creating lasting peace in Afghanistan will be hard. The country suffers endemic poverty and corruption, dashed hopes, and distrust of imported ideas. Still, America’s interests are served by working to create buy-in from disparate, disconsolate, opposing parties.

Once a peace accord, complete with sequential steps, is signed – backsliding is inevitable. Jealous, angry, scared violators and agitators, warlords, and terrorists will try to undo what is done, undermine peace. We must persist, encouraging the young Afghan government, new Taliban leaders, and sources of mediation to stay with it.

Peace after war is never smooth, especially where losses were heavy. Hope seems more like naivete or fantasy. Still, those who persist are sometimes unexpectedly rewarded. In Afghanistan, the lift will be heavy, but choices are few. A strong argument exists for peace.

American prosecution of the Afghan war – in response to 9-11-01 – was necessary. This was a “just war.” Afghanistan, under Taliban and Al Qaida rule, permitted terrorist training, staging, and power-projection. George W. Bush, with bipartisan support, responded as he had to – and decisively.
The US routed the Taliban, helped secure the nation, trained security forces, and made possible elections.

Perpetual war, however, is not something Americans want or can afford. This 18-year war has exacted a terrible human and financial cost – even if necessary. We have lost 2,440 Americans, another 20,000 wounded. The United Nations estimates civilian losses at 100,000. Dollar-cost to Americans tops $1.07 trillion. President Trump is right: If peace is within reach, seize it.

From a historical perspective, peace in Afghanistan may be harder than securing the Philippines after World War II, Vietnam after 1973, El Salvador or Colombia in the 1990s. Here is why.

Whatever the peace accord, it must center on the Afghan Government and Taliban, America as surety.It must be realistic and enforceable. It must back representative government, disincentive Taliban and non-Taliban insurgents, encourage reintegration and demobilization, end entrenched human rights abuses, and – most importantly – prevent Afghanistan from staging future anti-Western terrorism.

Words are easy, actions hard – and this may be the toughest peace in our lifetimes. By contrast to post-war Philippines and Vietnam, Afghanistan’s threat is non-state actors. That makes enforcement tough.

Big questions surround any accord: Will Afghan leaders be able to stop resurgence of the Taliban, Al Qaida, or ISIS terrorists? Can Taliban leaders control outliers, non-state adversaries, and external terrorists?

Post-war, the Philippines confronted a Communist insurgency. Even recently, they have had to suppress an Islamic insurgency. Vietnam fell to communism two years after US troop withdrawal. And Afghanistan’s economy is on life support. Objectively, Afghans will continue to need training, security assistance, and a large infusion of Western aid, if any peace is to hold.

Empirically, US aid gives diffuse actors a reason to support peace. But Afghanistan possesses no infrastructure, so the climb to self-sufficiency will be steep. The country has few paved roads, no rail, or real aviation. They are without needed hospitals and schools, power grid, clean water, and – in many places – security. Legitimate agriculture is challenged by poppy cultivation, heroin traffickers, and warlord profiteering.

By contrast to post-war El Salvador and Colombia, Afghanistan is not near big economies, has little history of trade – outside drug trafficking. Without credible security, private foreign capital will not flow into the country. Absent investment, Afghanistan will remain among the poorest nations. Afghans are not without dreams, but they are uneducated. The country is not economically integrated, trained in self-rule, or schooled in tolerance. These also steepen the climb.

In El Salvador, peace was encouraged by the Catholic Church. In Colombia, cultural aspirations blended with a foundation of education and business relationships to reinforce peace. Even in these cases, absent sustained US financial commitment, peace in El Salvador, and Colombia would have stumbled.

In short, the challenge in Afghanistan is unique. Obstacles are ideological, acculturation to violence, endemic corruption, enduring terrorist groups and warlords, little experience with democracy, minimal education, and lack of cohesion. Making things worse, no economic infrastructure, plus the drag of drug trafficking and anti-western sentiment complicate progress. Other than that, peace is easy.

In truth, Afghanistan needs peace – and we need peace for Afghanistan. Accordingly, the Trump Administration is right to aggressively push peace, including self-rule and an exit for US troops. Americans should – whatever their politics – support President Trump’s push to end this war.

That said, realism is central. The seven-day “reduction in violence” is not “peace.” The final accord must assure Afghanistan is never again a staging ground for terrorism. That outcome requires US support, allowing Afghans to find political stability, economic infrastructure, and global integration. Without realism, peace in Afghanistan will be elusive. Net-net, Trump is right – time to steer into the wind, do all we can, wrap this conflict up – for good.

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Frank S.
5 months ago

While I applaud the effort, I remain very pessimistic. I’ve spent four years of my life in this god-forsaken country as a security contractor (senior management) and all I can say is good luck. Until the Afghans decide on their own they want peace, I just don’t see it. We cannot impose it. The country is rife with tribalism and warlordism. We Americans need to understand that the Afghans don’t think like us. If you talk to them about freedom, they look at you like you are crazy. They equate freedom with anarchy. The fact is, they are very comfortable… Read more »

William H Fry
5 months ago

The author failed to mention radical Islam and the goal of that religion. Their goal is not peace, their goal is to kill all infidels. To approach that mindset with a peace plan based on western ideals is a fool’s errand. Military Strength in country and a preparedness for war is the way to achieve peace. Afghanistan has been at war for over 2,000 years. This will never be “wrapped up”

Robert Hellam
5 months ago

This is like the 1973 “treaty” with North Vietnam. The Taliban will soon run Afghanistan once again, just as tyrannically as before. If we are indeed defeated, let’s just admit it and get out. Thank God my son wasn’t killed when he was stationed there. Let’s not put any more of our young people at risk for some poorly defined goal.

Pete from St Pete
5 months ago

Peace is certainly a worthy goal. However, when negotiating with Islamic extremists you can never forget that is perfectly acceptable for them to lie to infidels as long as it is forwarding the goal of Islam: the eventual elimination of all infidels (by conversion or force) to establish the ultimate aim of total world acceptance as Allah as our god. Whatever we agree upon DO NOT BRING ANY OF THEM INTO OUR COUNTRY. Obama welcomed in 80,000 Ethiopians on a utopian ideal of multiculturalism and all we got is two members of the House of Representatives who hate us and… Read more »

5 months ago

From the very beginning, our involvement in Afghanistan should have been one thing and one thing only. Go in and get Bin Laden and his followers encamped in the country and get out. A surgical strike of overwhelming force to guarantee the job gets done quickly and then leave. Very little, if any, need for massive boots on the ground. Where we went horribly wrong is the neo cons of the Bush administration were into nation building and the ludicrous idea that we could bring 21st century western values to a country and a people hopelessly mired in 7th century… Read more »

D. James
5 months ago

Countries like Afghanistan have been at war for centuries. It is in their culture. Pouring American lives and count dollars is not going to change a thing. I have served two tours in Vietnam and witnessed the failure of American occupation in support of a feeble an corrupt government. We all know the outcome of 10 years that. We need to leave that place and secure our own borders.

John Karkalis
5 months ago

“Elusive” is an understatement. Afghanistan has been a quagmire, a hornet’s nest, a bottomless pit for any Western nation that has been involved there. The responses from Amac members so far appear pessimistic for any meaningful settlement. It’s “East meets West”, generally an unhappy collision of Western pragmatism vs Eastern radicalism. My fellow Vietnamese veterans can appreciate this. The other side, Ho Chi Minh and general Giap simply waited us out, knowing America’s limited patience and concern for the safety of our young American fighters. In short, we value human life. The other side does not. If we choose to… Read more »

5 months ago

Ask the Jews about lasting peace with Muslims. They have no morals compared to the rest of the world because their Koran says it is OK to do anything at all to infidels. We should go back to paying off the war lords as we were doing before Jimmy Carter decided that was not nice. It has been nothing but misery since then. We also need to get them OUT of our government at all levels.

Bob L.
5 months ago

Peace in Muslim countries is either a pipe dream or at best short-lived. When not warring among the different factions, they wage war against infidels, a fact as old as Islam itself. The Soviets came to realize it and backed out, licking their wounds. Now, we have wasted numerous American lives and billions of dollars in yet another unconstitutional, globalist intervention.

Keith H
5 months ago

Get our men and women out of those God forsaken Muslim countries. Let them kill each other. That’s what that religion does. There is no help for those death cult fanatics over there. Bring our troops home to protect our Great Country !! We have lost way to many good kids, fighting for these stupid welfare bum politicians !! Send back all of those who have come here from those countries. Get Them Out !!! Stop all immigration to our Country for at least 10 years. Finish the wall !!! Those people aren’t worth the time of day !!! I’ll… Read more »

Patriot Will
5 months ago

The petty, primitive politics that are a strong part of Afghanistan life and conflict are disturbingly similar to the irrational, demented ways of doing things exhibited by the deranged left. Even though the specific beliefs are very different, the stubbornness and meanness in always looking for the bad in things are strangely the same.

Randy Geiger
5 months ago

We seemed to learn nothing from Vietnam (I am a veteran of that conflict) nor from the Russians when we supported the Mujajhideen against them. I don’t see any road to peace there until they uncorrupt their government and the people truly decide they want to run their government. Most importantly, these multiple deployments of our troops do nothing but add to the PTSD, and suicide problems our troops face and to the disruption and pain of their families. Lets go all out to win or get out of there if we are not. Tough decisions need to be made… Read more »

Joe Mchugh
5 months ago

Afghanistan is known for being the graveyard of any foreign government that ever attempted to control it. That the author of this article, Robert B. Charles, fails to see the salient problem, is typical of Western thinking. The clans and tribes of Afghanistan are captive of the murderous cult called Islam. The Afghans are not a cohesive people, their mentality is the same as it was in the seventh century. Thanks to Mohammad, they are used to, even comfortable living in a loose society that functions exactly like it did when Mohammad introduced his “religion of the sword”. Islam only… Read more »

Rick J.
5 months ago

Have to give President Trump credit for trying. However, I believe a snowball in hell has a better chance of survival

Brenda Blunt
5 months ago

Praying for an end. Those that want peace will see it done and those that don’t will do everything they can to prevent it.

5 months ago

I would love to see this country go peaceful. But the USA was warned by many people of the dangers of fighting in this area & the other counties that were not successful in past history. But US needs to get out somehow………..

Stephen Russell
5 months ago

My issue is with the Taliban sects otherwise doable But have a rotating force in area, rotate forces out every 2 years BUT on same ROE action plan etc.
If that minumum. But Afgans have 2 take charge

Donald Keen
5 months ago

PRAYING that’s all we can do it is in GODS HANDS.

Josephine pooley
5 months ago

Yes, yes and yes!

anna hubert
5 months ago

good luck with that one,if they wanted to live in peace they would not need us.look at Palestinians,Golda Mair said it…as long as you hate us more than you love your children there never be peace. The age of reason has not reached them yet ,unless there is reformation and an honest discussion about that religion which directs every aspect of their lives all is but vanity. There is one thing that can be done, turn off the spigot.They’ll fight as long as we continue feeding their kids,not only Afghans.

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