Afghanistan “is not going to become Switzerland overnight,” an American official said as the U.S. and the Taliban on Saturday morning, and you have to admire his understatement. The United States has sacrificed the lives of numerous heroic service members and squandered trillions for nearly two decades now in the fond hope that it could remake Afghanistan into Switzerland, and the one good thing about this “peace accord” with the Taliban is that it heralds the long-overdue end of this fool’s errand.
The old assumptions, although they have led to policies that have multiply failed, are still prevalent. The usual objections are being made. In its story on the peace accord, the Washington Free Beacon that “a group of Republican members of Congress” had petitioned the Trump administration, asking the President not to go through with the agreement. “They and other critics say the Taliban cannot be trusted to implement peace and that the moment U.S. forces vacate the country, terror forces will again rise to power.”
This echoed a statement from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who : “We are never going to get the U.S. military out of Afghanistan unless we take care to see that there is something going on that will provide the stability that will be necessary for us to leave.”
The unnamed American official said: “Everybody has the same goals. No one wants to see the return of the Islamic Emirate.” Well, sure. Everybody, that is, except the Taliban, who are still determined to reestablish their Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan. Once the American troops finally leave, “terror forces” will indeed make every effort to “again rise to power.” There will not be “stability” in Afghanistan. Does that mean that we have to keep troops there forever? Or should the United States focus on what is best for America in Afghanistan, working to ensure that the Taliban cannot engage in international jihad terror activity, and otherwise leaving the Afghans to their own devices?
The U.S./Taliban peace talks are a good thing if they do indeed become the pretext for bringing American troops home, but they have nonetheless been a grim charade. No one in the foreign policy establishment will acknowledge the fact, but the Taliban are strict, Sharia-observant Muslims, and the Sharia guidelines for treaty-making with Infidels are based on Muhammad’s Treaty of Hudaybiyya. Muslims can only enter into such a treaty when they are weak and need time to gather their strength (or, more remotely, if they think the enemy is about to convert to Islam). Then they can break it when it is no longer needed. The Taliban will not honor whatever treaty is made.
Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and the Islamic State are in Afghanistan, and just biding their time until we leave. What we should do is pull out and adopt a strategy modeled after the old containment strategy that was used in the Cold War. I’ve harshly criticized the foreign policy establishment for retaining old Cold War paradigms and failing to adapt to the new realities of the world, particularly the resurgent jihad, but in this case, the wonks would do well to revisit some Cold War history.
What would be contained today would be jihadis: we would focus our efforts on preventing them from ever leaving Afghanistan and sowing mayhem anywhere else, while giving up our quixotic aspirations of Wilsonian nation-building. Accompany that with a robust and unapologetic affirmation of American values (freedom of speech, equality of rights of women, etc.) instead of the support we have given to Sharia in Afghanistan (and previously in Iraq), and an honest acknowledgment of the motivating ideology behind jihad activity, and we might actually start getting somewhere.
The fool’s errand in Afghanistan has had no goal, no endpoint, no definition of victory. It should have been ended years ago, and it is good that it is finally coming to an end. What have we been fighting for, anyway? The Taliban are never going to surrender. American forces have supervised the implementation of an Afghan constitution that enshrined Islamic law as the highest law of the land. Yet Islamic law is nothing like the democratic principles that we went into Afghanistan to defend (over here) and establish (over there). Sharia institutionalizes the oppression of women and non-Muslims, extinguishes freedom of speech, and denies the freedom of conscience.
Was that what we were fighting for?
Nonetheless, America continued to pour out her blood and treasure for this repressive state, with no clear objective or mission in view. No one defined what victory would look like in Afghanistan. Has the Ghani regime ever allowed women to throw off their burqas and take their place in Afghan society as human beings equal in dignity to men? Does the Ghani government, or any Afghan government that would follow it, ever intend to guarantee basic human rights to the tiny and ever-dwindling number of non-Muslims unfortunate enough to live within its borders? Of course not.
And no matter how long American troops stay in Afghanistan, no Afghan regime is ever going to do such things. But nonetheless, we have remained there. It’s long past time to end this travesty.