The news has centered on Afghanistan in the last week because of some secret meeting at Camp David with the Taleban ….cancelled to avoid the embarrassment for the president…….
President Trump surprised many over the weekend with the revelation that he had canceled secret peace talks that were about to take place at Camp David with Taliban and Afghan leaders. Trump said he called off the meeting following a Taliban attack in Kabul that killed an American soldier. Now the big question is what happens next in regard to US plans to scale down its presence in Afghanistan. A look at coverage:
- The talks: The New York Times has an in-depth look at how the Camp David meeting nearly came to be, reporting that Trump himself suggested using the coveted locale. Some background: The US has been negotiating separately with the Taliban for some time, and a deal is close. Those talks have not included Afghanistan, however, and it was Trump’s idea to invite Afghan leader Ashraf Ghani to the US to sign off on an agreement.
- Trump’s style: The Washington Post reports this via an official: “Comparing the initiative to Trump’s personal meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and his stated desire to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, this official said Trump thinks his personal style can persuade anyone, and that he has seen the possibility of a substantial Afghan withdrawal as a major plus for his reelection campaign.”
- Critic’s view: Don’t buy the president’s explanation that he called off the meeting over the death of an American service member, writes Chas Danner at New York. “Last week’s deadly suicide bombing was not some final straw for Trump, as he and Pompeo have claimed, but rather a politically palatable excuse to save face after the administration’s plan for a peacemaking grand finale fell apart,” writes Danner. He has a lengthy analysis.
- How it allegedly fell apart: The Times reports the Taliban did agree to come to Camp David, but only if the peace deal was announced prior to their arrival there. That was a “fundamental dividing point.” Trump “wanted to be the dealmaker who would put the final parts together himself, or at least be perceived to be,” per the story.
- So now what? Not only is the Camp David meeting off, but those US-Taliban talks also have been suspended. The AP reports that it’s not clear when they might resume, and the Timesthinks it could be “several months.” Also up in the air is the timeline for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. About 14,000 are currently there, and Trump promised last month to bring that number down to about 8,600. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out two conditions for any drawdown on Sunday: reduced violence and the pledge that Afghanistan would not be used as the base for an attack on the US.
- A rift: The Afghanistan strategy has exposed a rift between national security adviser John Bolton, a hawk who wants no part of a deal with the Taliban, and Pompeo, who backs the negotiations, reports the Post. Bolton maintains that Trump can keep a campaign pledge of reducing the US troop presence without a Taliban deal.
- Taliban threat: A Taliban spokesman warned that the cancellation will result in American deaths, reports Reuters. “This will lead to more losses to the US,” he said. “Its credibility will be affected, its anti-peace stance will be exposed to the world, losses to lives and assets will increase.”
Trump wants to get out of Afghanistan because he promised to do so and because it will look good on his re-election rhetoric…..
Do we have a moral reason to stay in the country?
Since 9/11, U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan have fluctuated between a high of 100,000 in 2011 and about 14,000 today. Until 2014, they were part of a NATO mission that at its height had 130,000 troops from 50 countries; NATO transitioned it from a combat mission to a “train, equip and advise” mandate in 2014, aiming to shift responsibility to Afghan security forces. The U.S. contingent is now the major part of a force of 17,000 from 30 countries. Close to 3,500 coalition personnel have been killed since 2001, including 2,300 Americans.
No one would argue that this 18-year-long Western commitment has solved Afghanistan’s security problems, but some changes in Afghan life offer modest hope for the future. Despite endemic corruption, Afghans continue to stumble fitfully toward a functioning electoral system, with a presidential election set for Sept. 28. Perhaps most important, in a country of 36 million people, USAID says about 9 million children are now in school, one-third of them girls. Under the Taliban, few children had access to school, and no girls were permitted to attend.
Or do we stay….and stay….and stay……?
After 18 years of waging war in Afghanistan, the Trump administration is attempting to pull back. But critics have responded with outrage. What’s the point of trying to reach a deal with the execrable Taliban? How can we contemplate abandoning the Afghan government when the country could be plunged into civil war or worse?
The implication of these objections is clear: Eighteen years has been insufficient. The U.S. should be willing to guarantee Afghan security and stability — including playing Whack-a-Mole with Taliban insurgents — with no end in sight. Anything less than such an open-ended commitment is tantamount to a surrender — and surrendering to America’s enemies should be considered unacceptable, no matter the cost in blood and treasure.
As usual there is a wealth of reason why the US cannot leave Afghanistan….sadly none hold up to the reality.
One last thought……
according to the US Department of Defense, the total military expenditure in Afghanistan (from October 2001 until March 2019) was $760bn.
But it doesn’t include spending in Pakistan, which the US uses as a base for Afghan-related operations.
That is cash that could have been used in the US on education, health or infrastructure….instead fighting a war that we cannot win was the use for those dollars.
“Lego Ergo Scribo”