If Pompeo has a sense of honor, he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan.
It isn’t hard to guess what Mike Pompeo, the hawkish congressman from Kansas, would say about the Afghan exit deal that Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, is negotiating with the Taliban.
The details of the negotiations, which are being conducted in Qatar by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and could be finalized by the end of the month, are a closely held secret. So close, in fact, that I’m told Pompeo won’t allow White House officials to review details of the agreement except in his presence.
But the basic outline is this: a complete withdrawal of America’s 14,000 troops from Afghanistan within 14 months — that is, by October 2020 — in exchange for a promise from the Taliban not to attack our forces on the way out, along with some kind of vague assurance from them that Afghanistan will not again become a base for global terrorism. A source familiar with the deal says there is no explicit requirement for the Taliban to renounce its ties to Al Qaeda.
Even those who want the U.S. to leave Afghanistan, come what may, should be dismayed to see an American strategic decision be so nakedly dictated by the electoral needs of a president who wants to take credit for ending “endless wars.” They should be no less dismayed by the idea that we are doing so in plain indifference to Afghanistan’s government, which wasn’t invited to the talks because the Taliban won’t deign to speak to what it considers a puppet government.
That “puppet” government is, for all of its well-known flaws, internationally recognized and democratically elected. It does not wantonly massacre its own people, or wage war on its neighbors, or sponsor terrorist groups that seek to wage war on the West. And it’s also all that will stand between the Taliban’s murderous misogyny and Afghanistan’s 18 million vulnerable women.
Then again, progressives have been pining for an Afghan exit for at least a decade, and Barack Obama set a timetable for full withdrawal (which he was later forced to reverse in the face of Taliban gains) in 2014. Foreign-policy hawks in the mold of Pompeo used to take a different view about the wisdom of U.S. retreat — at least before they became Donald Trump flunkies.
For starters, they had no patience for the lie that the Taliban was to Al Qaeda merely what a flea motel is to a fugitive on the lam. The Taliban lied to Clinton administration envoy Bill Richardson in 1998 by telling him they didn’t know of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts when they were harboring him, and then refused to give him up after the 9/11 attacks.
They’d have even less patience for the convenient fantasy that the Afghan Taliban has, or ever will, part ways with its brothers in global jihad. The deputy leader of the Taliban is Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also leads the Haqqani Network that has been entwined with Al Qaeda since its earliest days.
“There is not a scintilla of evidence that the network is willing to break with Al Qaeda,” notes Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Even if the Taliban were to renounce A.Q. and attacks on the West, which they have never done, you’d need a verification mechanism. But if you withdraw all Western troops, there is no verification.”
What about the case for ending a long war? That’s always desirable, and every death in war is a tragedy. But a hawk might also note that U.S. endured just 14 fatalities in Afghanistan in 2018, and that a U.S. service member is far more likely to die in a training accident than in combat. At some point, describing our current involvement in the country as a “war” stretches semantic credibility when compared to past U.S. conflicts.
Against the human (and budgetary) cost of our presence in Afghanistan, hawks would tally the cost of withdrawal. Even liberals like former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta criticized Obama for withdrawing too hastily from Iraq, thereby creating the power vacuum that ISIS quickly filled. It was a fiasco that ended only when Obama was forced to return U.S. troops to Iraq a few years later.
Why should a similar scenario not play out in Afghanistan? It’s true that ISIS and the Taliban are rivals, but any administration willing to entrust the Taliban with being a bulwark against global terrorism is even more gullible than the poor saps who paid money for a Trump University training program.
Hawks once understood this — just as they understood that America paid a steep price in strategic and moral credibility when it bugged out of its international commitments, squandered the sacrifices of American troops for the immediate political benefit of a sitting president, and betrayed the vulnerable populations we had endeavored to protect against a barbaric enemy.
Don’t just take it from me. “As a former Army officer, it is gravely concerning to see any president of the United States play politics with critical national security issues,” one conservative lawmaker said in 2011 of Obama’s initial decision to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces. “This decision puts both the lives of American troops and the gains made on the ground in Afghanistan at risk.”
That lawmaker was — who else? — Mike Pompeo. If the secretary has a sense of shame, he might consider apologizing to Obama for adopting the same policy he once so loudly denounced. If he has a sense of honor, he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan. I’m confident he’ll do neither.
Afghanistan is an expensive disaster for America. The Pentagon has already consumed $828 billion on the war, and taxpayers will be liable for trillions more in veterans’ health-care costs for decades to come. More than 2,000 American soldiers have died there, with more than 20,000 wounded in action.For all that effort, Afghanistan is failing. The terrorist cohort consistently gains control of more territory, including key economic arteries
.. First, he should consolidate authority in Afghanistan with one person: an American viceroy
The coalition has had 17 different military commanders in the past 15 years, which means none of them had time to develop or be held responsible for a coherent strategy.
- .. In Afghanistan, the viceroy approach would reduce rampant fraud by focusing spending on initiatives that further the central strategy, rather than handing cash to every outstretched hand from a U.S. system bereft of institutional memory.
- .. Troops fighting for their lives should not have to ask a lawyer sitting in air conditioning 500 miles away for permission to drop a bomb. Our plodding, hand wringing and overcaution have prolonged the war—and the suffering it bears upon the Afghan population.
- .. Third, we must build the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces the effective and proven way, instead of spending billions more pursuing the “ideal” way. The 330,000-strong Afghan army and police were set up under the guidance of U.S. military “advisers” in the mirror image of the U.S. Army. That was the wrong approach. .. frequent defections, which currently deliver the equivalent of two trained infantry divisions per year to the enemy.
.. a different, centuries-old approach. For 250 years, the East India Company prevailed in the region through the use of private military units known as “presidency armies.” They were locally recruited and trained, supported and led by contracted European professional soldiers. The professionals lived, patrolled, and—when necessary—fought shoulder-to-shoulder with their local counterparts for multiyear deployments. That long-term dwelling ensured the training, discipline, loyalty and material readiness of the men they fought alongside for years, not for a one-time eight-month deployment.
.. the viceroy would have complete decision-making authority in the country so no time is wasted waiting for Washington to send instructions. A nimbler special-ops and contracted force like this would cost less than $10 billion per year, as opposed to the $45 billion we expect to spend in Afghanistan in 2017.
.. The military default in a conventional war is to control terrain, neglecting the long-term financial arteries that fund the fight, and handicaps long-term economic potential.
The Taliban understand this concept well. They control most of Afghanistan’s economic resources—including lapis, marble, gold, pistachios, hashish and opium—and use profits to spread their influence and perpetuate the insurgency. Our strategy needs to target those resources by placing combat power to cover Afghanistan’s economic arteries.
.. We need to encourage the growth of legitimate industries to raise tax revenue while choking off the Taliban’s sources of income. It’s absurd that Afghanistan—which holds an estimated $1 trillion worth of mineral resources—still doesn’t have a mining law, after 15 years of American presence and “advice.”
.. Our failed population-centric approach to Afghanistan has only led to missed opportunities
.. A smarter, trade-centric approach will boost Afghanistan’s long-run viability by weaning it off donor welfare dependency.
.. Mr. Trump must not lose sight of the reason we became involved in Afghanistan: to deny sanctuary to those who want to destroy our way of life.
.. The U.S. should adjust course from the past 15-plus years of nation building and focus on pounding the Taliban and other terrorists so hard that they plead for negotiation. Until they feel real pressure and know the U.S. has staying power, they will win.
Commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning, one of the great traitors of our time, is finger-in-the-eye willfulness. Obama took 28 years off the sentence of a soldier who stole and then released through WikiLeaks almost half a million military reports plus another quarter-million State Department documents.
.. The cables were embarrassing; the military secrets were almost certainly deadly. They jeopardized the lives not just of American soldiers on two active fronts — Iraq and Afghanistan — but of locals who were, at great peril, secretly aiding and abetting us. After Manning’s documents release, the Taliban “went on a killing spree”
.. Even the word “leaker” is misleading. Leak makes it sound like a piece of information a whistleblower gives Woodward and Bernstein to expose misdeeds in high office. This was nothing of the sort. It was the indiscriminate dumping of a mountain of national-security secrets certain to bring harm to American troops, allies, and interests.
.. What makes this commutation so spectacularly in-your-face is its hypocrisy. Here is a president who spent weeks banging the drums over the harm inflicted by WikiLeaks with its release of stolen materials and e-mails during the election campaign. He demanded a report immediately. He imposed sanctions on Russia. He preened about the sanctity of the American political process.
.. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. who went on to be a great Democratic senator, once argued passionately that in the anti-American, anti-democratic swamp of the U.N., America should act unwaveringly in opposition and never give in to the jackals. Obama joined the jackals. Why? To curry favor with the international Left? After all, Obama leaves office as a relatively young man of 55. His next chapter could very well be as a leader on the international stage, perhaps at the U.N. (secretary-general?) or some transnational (ostensibly) human-rights organization. What better demonstration of bona fides than a gratuitous attack on Israel?
.. A more likely explanation, however, is that these are acts not of calculation but of authenticity. This is Obama being Obama. He leaves office as he came in: a man of the Left, but possessing the intelligence and discipline to suppress his more radical instincts. As of November 9, 2016, suppression was no longer necessary.
.. We’ve just gotten a glimpse of his real self. From now on, we shall see much more of it.
Sultana reminds us that the greatest untapped resource around the globe isn’t gold or oil, but the female half of the population. Virginia Woolf wrote that if Shakespeare had had an equally talented sister, she never would have been able to flower — and Sultana is Shakespeare’s sister. Yet it’s also clear that internet connections can sometimes be a game changer.
.. If only we were as cleareyed as the Taliban about the power of girls’ education to transform societies.