Terry H. Schwadron
March 2, 2020
Probably like you, I have undergone several, almost simultaneous feelings while reading about the U.S.-Taliban’s fragile deal-signing.
That we may actually be headed soon to bringing U.S. troops home brought an initial wash of good feeling. Of course, it turns out in reality that things are more complicated than reflected by the White House announcement, as the Afghan president himself reminded all by blocking a key prisoner swap timeline.
At least, I told myself, this time no one seems to be outwardly lying about the fragility of the agreement. Indeed, I found myself grateful for news analysis like that from veteran reporter David Sanger of The New York Times that noted we had signed on to more of an appearance of peace than for peace itself.
After months of work, the deal that finally made it through calls for a reduction in U.S. troop levels to where they were when Donald Trump moved into the White House in return for promises of good behavior by a Taliban hierarchy that has been positioned for years to return Afghanistan to a medieval society. The deal was signed after a promise by the Taliban to halt violence against Americans and Afghan troops for a period of seven days; they did not do so completely, but the effort was good enough to allow American negotiators face to sign the deal.
What the deal demands next is for the Taliban to talk with the sitting Afghan government, which had been excluded from the U.S.-Taliban talks, about the Afghanistan to come. Whether the Taliban support education for women, for example, or the multiple Afghan ethnicities to participate fully as citizens are all unknown.
Indeed, no one knows what peace might look like for Afghans.
What we do know is that fewer American soldiers will be called upon to protect the status quo, and that is good enough for us to expect that Donald Trump will be burnishing his peace-making credentials now through the November elections — or until the next round of Nobel Peace Prize nominations are due.
Importantly, the Taliban have been made to promise against harboring the training of international terrorists, but Vice President Mike Pence on the talk shows yesterday was acknowledging that there are no hard and fast agreements here. In return, the Taliban will get a White House visit and public handshake.
Nineteen years of warfare commitment is an eternity for Americans who insist on instant gratification. That it comes about under a president who has no international strategy beyond whatever instantly can be ordered In response to a singular situation or incident is yet more remarkable.
Thus, the Sanger thesis: “President Trump has left no doubt that his first priority in Afghanistan is a peace treaty that would enable him to claim that he is fulfilling his vow to withdraw American troops. But a parade of his former national security aides say he is far less interested in an actual Afghan peace.”
I’ve noted previously that American negotiators have wanted badly to say that our nation has won something here. It seems we have won a campaign slogan for Trump — and an Obama-style date-setting for total withdrawal of 12,000–13,000 troops in 14 months, if all goes well — a pretty vague standard. It is exactly the kind of deal that Trump has criticized repeatedly as arranged by his predecessor.
In the short run, any withdrawal will be exactly to the troop levels left by Barack Obama — 8,500.
There also was an announced agreement on release of 5,000 Taliban fighters held by allies, and return of some Afghans, though the Afghan president has already rejected the idea, perhaps putting the whole agreement in question. .
News coverage of the events reflected open skepticism about this deal.
Karen De Young, a very savvy foreign affairs reporter for The Washington Post, noted that “Many veterans of the years-long efforts to end the war and leave a stable Afghanistan, as well as Trump supporters, questioned whether the new agreement laid a sturdy groundwork for permanent peace. Some described it as a capitulation to the Taliban, whose primary demand has always been the full departure of foreign troops.”
She quoted some senior military and intelligence officials who said they “are concerned that the administration is putting too much stock in the promises of the Taliban,” who will “simply sign anything to get us to leave.”
Sanger’s analysis noted that Afghan president Ashraf Ghani was furious by being excluded from the process and has expressed little confidence in any eventual peace agreement that works beyond a hotel room in Doha in the United Arab Emirates, where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who oversaw the deal-signing. Pompeo later said the Taliban have a long and challenging list of achievements that must be honored to make the deal complete — adding that we should just by deed not word.
We should be thankful that the efforts may result in Americans coming home, but remain alert that we don’t get sucked into something that looks like a political deal without substantial support. Despite the handshaking, it hardly makes one feel that we have eliminated terrorism as a threat.
Making America Great should mean actually making it great, and not just generating campaign mottos.