Appeasing the Taliban Is a Bad Idea
I understand that there are very few of us left who still place a priority on defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan. I further understand that none of those few are anywhere near the president. That doesn’t change the fact that the president and those who are near him are wrong to be entering an agreement with the Taliban that the latter will almost certainly break in the re-conquest of the country if – and, sadly, when – American troops leave.
Trump himself announced in his latest State of the Union that he wanted out of Afghanistan. He used the common – albeit understandable – trope of timing (Politico): “We do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace.”
He went off the rails, however, with this assertion: “And the other side would like to do the same thing.”
The “other side,” of course, is the Taliban: the shelterers of Osama bin Laden, allies of his al Qaeda, and de facto jailers of the Afghan people from 1996 to 2001. Much of rural Afghanistan still suffers under their reign.
Many isolationists and realists will insist that last part is not really relevant. They will say how a regime treats its own people shouldn’t matter. They couldn’t be more wrong. Tyrannical regimes have always chafed by comparison with the United States and its fellow democracies. In the 21st Century, they have found it easier to team up against us and – in the case of Vladimir Putin – attack our democracy itself. Allowing the tyrants another victory – even a small one – is deeply unwise absent a major benefit to American interests.
Moreover, the developing “deal” with the Taliban not only provides no such benefit, but is based on a ridiculous lie, as Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio noted in Politico.
As the United Nations Security Council found in two recent reports, al-Qaida and the Taliban remain “closely allied” and their “long-standing” relationship “remains firm.” Al-Qaida’s leaders still view Afghanistan as a “safe haven,” and their men act like a force multiplier for the insurgency, offering military and religious instruction to Taliban fighters. Indeed, al-Qaida is operating across multiple Afghan provinces, including in areas dominated by the Taliban.
In short, any claim that the Taliban has ended or will end its alliance with al Qaeda is folly. The perpetrators of the 9/11 attack are just as tied to the Taliban now as then. Any “deal” would be as useless as the Munich 1938 deal.
I suspect none of that matters to the Administration. They are far more interested in ending the war than in winning it – a mistaken view that is certainly not limited to the president, or to his faction, or even to his party. America isn’t used to long wars. It’s lone experience with them in the 20th century was Vietnam. Yet both there and in Afghanistan, the assumption that a war could be limited only limited the prospect for victory. The Taliban still think America can be beaten. They’re looking increasingly correct.
The long-term affect for America could be devastating. The alliance that launched the most deadly attack on American soil could end up in exactly the same position a mere two decades after the attack. The message would be unmistakable: the United States is no longer willing to defeat its enemies, no matter how badly those enemies strike.
Or, as a certain president remarked: “We don’t win anymore.”
I’m not saying it will be easy to defeat the Taliban; I’m not saying it will be quick. I’m not even saying that military force is the only tool to use; in time, it may not even be an efficient one. I am saying that the Taliban is not a partner in peace, but an enemy, and that our priority must be defeating them – for the sake of Afghanistan, for our sake, and for the sake of everyone in between.