As my colleague Bonchie noted just a little earlier today, we’ve reached a point in our national discourse where it is impossible for President Trump to do virtually anything without a) the left and the media going utterly batsh** crazy and b) the NeverTrumpers and Vichy Republicans engaging in a freakout. The Pavlovian stimulus, in this case, was an announcement by President Trump that he had suspended negotiations with the Taliban because of a terror attack in Kabul:
Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday. They were coming to the United States tonight. Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2019
….only made it worse! If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway. How many more decades are they willing to fight?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2019
This is what the Vichy wing of the NeverTrumper coalition had to say:
The good news — no meeting with the Taliban at Camp David.
The bad news — there was going to be a meeting with the Taliban at Camp David.
The worst news — he seems to be just now learning about their pure evil and malign intentions. https://t.co/uwtyVrLeH2
— David French (@DavidAFrench) September 8, 2019
Putting aside French’s incredibly stupid assertion that the entire Trump administration doesn’t know what the Taliban are, the objection seems to be that the Taliban negotiators were coming to Camp David to seal the deal. First off, bringing odious characters to Camp David to achieve a diplomatic goal. Jimmy Carter brought the terrorist Yasser Arafat to Camp David as did Bill Clinton. Khrushchev, Gorbachev and Putin all visited visited Camp David. The only difference between any of those and the Taliban was a better haberdasher and marginally better person hygiene. We’ve been in direct negotiations with the Taliban since early 2018, so having them come to the US to try to nail down a deal makes good sense.
Any armed conflict has a fairly finite number of outcomes. You can win, and impose your will upon the enemy (think World War II). You can fight to a stalemate and negotiate an end to hostilities (think Korean). Or you can preemptively withdraw and leave the area to your enemies. If you are an empire or totalitarian regime, you may be able to sustain a multi-generational war, but that is a process, not an outcome.
Winning in Afghanistan, as most Americans would understand it, has never really been on the table. Mostly for the reason that no one could ever describe what a “win” looked like in a sh**hole backwater like Afghanistan. Even after nearly two decades of substantial Western contact, it remains a country whose society has deep ethnic fault lines, limited natural resources (if you rule out opium poppies), landlocked, and it is enslaved by a particularly brutal form of a religion that is firmly locked in the 8th century.
This is a war that started out as a punitive expedition, an exercise in killing as many people and breaking as many things as necessary in order to root out al Qaeda training camps and to teach whatever potentate or collection of potentates that took over the smoking ruins a lesson in behavior. Had we done that, we could have been out of Afghanistan in 2002 and declared, with total honesty, that our objectives had been achieved. The Bill Kristols of the world would have been unhappy because they’ve never really found a military adventure they could resist. The left would have been unhappy because the successor regime to the Taliban wouldn’t have had a significantly different worldview. But there would have been no al Qaeda camps there and a message would have been sent loud and clear.
Somewhere along the line, the mission changed from a punitive expedition to some kind of crusade to spread democracy and to transform Pashtun society. You didn’t have to be particularly bright to see that neither was going to happen without the active involvement of several hundred thousand US and NATO troops over three or four generations. And you had to be profoundly stupid to thing that level of political and military commitment was possible.
With a win being unachievable and some 18 years sunk investment, we had two remaining options: Negotiating a face saving withdrawal and leaving the Afghans to their own devices, or pulling the plug on this misadventure and leaving. In the end, the difference between these will be little more than semantic because when we ultimately leave there seems to be no indigenous coalition that can resist a Taliban supported by Pakistan and Iran.
If we accept that a negotiated settlement is necessary, then a visit to Camp David or Mar-A-Lago (the latter would probably not have been a great idea) would be an indispensable part of that. The Taliban are Pashtun and governed by the code of Pashtunwali and key components of that are hospitality and personal honor. The act of a US President receiving the Taliban delegation at a private retreat would have placed enormous pressure on the delegation to reach an accord simply to return the honor that was shown them. Literally an president interested in ending this war would be required to do the same and I’ve no doubt that he received this advice from both State and Defense.
— FoxNewsSunday (@FoxNewsSunday) September 8, 2019
Not to say this is a shame. We had the choice of leaving Afghanistan with honor and prestige, we elected to not do so. We had the choice of demonstrating the irresistible might of the US Armed Forces and I fear we have not only upped the Taliban’s game but we’ve taught more terrorists that if you simply hang in there America will lose interest. Were the investment of another 10 or 20 years likely to produce a different outcome, I’d be on the front ranks demanding that we hang in there. But it won’t because it can’t. We simply are not willing to undertake the kind of effort it would take to win and so we need to cut our losses and protect the inept and corrupt Afghan government as best we can as a new equilibrium is reached. If any good has come out of this experience, I hope it is in impressing upon our political establishment the folly of attempting a strategy the involves the transformation of a society without acknowledging the time and effort that will be required…or maybe just decide not to do it at all.
The people throwing feces in rage over this have nothing better to offer. They are simply opposed to a negotiated settlement because Trump is negotiating it. They really need to grow up.