U.S. moves towards exit from Afghanistan

Ryan Crocker, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan (among other hot spots, has published an op-ed in the Washington Post. In the paper edition, his op-ed is called “The U.S. is surrendering to the Taliban.”

It looks that way. The U.S. is negotiating with the Taliban. The Afghan government has been cut out of the negotiations at the Taliban’s insistence. The two parties — the U.S. and the Taliban — have announced a framework agreement that could lead to the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. In exchange, the Taliban would commit to not harboring terrorist organizations that could threaten U.S. security.

I believe the Taliban would do its best to honor that commitment. Its interest is in power — in reinstating its oppressive theocratic rule over Afghanistan. Why jeopardize that goal by harboring anti-U.S. terrorists? I’m pretty sure the Taliban wouldn’t have harbored bin Laden if it had known the consequences of doing so.

The contemplated deal thus serves the Taliban’s interest in gaining control of Afghanistan and the U.S. interest in disengaging from that country. What about the Afghan people, though?

The deal may or may not include various promises and guarantees by Taliban regarding the post-withdrawal Afghanistan. It doesn’t matter. The Taliban won’t honor any commitment that stands in the way of its quest for absolute power.

This means a nightmare for secular Afghans, especially Afghan women. The Afghan government appears to be no match for the Taliban. And the version of the Taliban likely to take over Afghanistan seems little changed from the version that ran it before 2002.

It’s true that in areas controlled by the Taliban things are a bit looser than 20 years ago. Girls are allowed to attend school, for example. But the Taliban has not renounced its goal of imposing a particularly puritanical version of Islamic law, thereby undoing almost 20 years of liberalization and westernization.

I would prefer that the U.S. remain in Afghanistan to block this result, at least in areas like Kabul. But we have been fighting there for 17 years. I understand President Trump’s position that we can’t remain indefinitely. I also understand his frustration, and the frustration of many Americans, that the Afghans have been unable to develop a fighting force that can cope with the Taliban absent an American presence.

The U.S. has given Afghans, or at least a substantial number of them, nearly two decades of freedom. I’d like to see us guarantee that freedom for another decade. However, it’s simply not realistic to expect us to bear that burden.

It’s not that a lot of American lives are being lost in Afghanistan at this point. It’s that, with no end in sight, the loss of even a small number of American lives plus the cost of our presence is not considered acceptable by enough Americans to sustain our involvement for much longer.

How will the the unhappy and probably bloody aftermath of our withdrawal play here? We’ll see. My guess is that it won’t have much of a political impact here absent terrorism emanating from Afghanistan.

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