March 10, 2020


American troops have begun leaving Afghanistan for the initial troop withdrawal required in the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement, the U.S. military confirmed Monday, amid political chaos in Kabul that threatens the deal.” AP News

See our initial coverage of the US-Taliban deal here. The Flip Side

“International Criminal Court judges authorized a far-reaching investigation [last] Thursday of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by Afghan government forces, the Taliban, American troops and U.S. foreign intelligence operatives. The appellate ruling marked the first time the court’s prosecutor has been cleared to investigate U.S. forces.” AP News

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From the Left

The left is generally skeptical of the terms of the agreement and supportive of the ICC.

“[The agreement] is unlikely to achieve the U.S.’s single most important goal of its nearly 20-year effort in Afghanistan: to deny safe haven to al-Qaeda… The Taliban promise not to let any group use Afghanistan to threaten the United States, not to cooperate with or host any such group, and to ‘send a clear message’ that such groups ‘have no place in Afghanistan.’ The agreement contains no details and no means of enforcement or verification for the Taliban’s commitments…

“How many al-Qaeda members are required for the U.S. to consider the Taliban in breach of their obligations? Just one? 100? Or 1,000? What constitutes the ‘use’ of Afghanistan for terrorist activity? Is anyone associated with al-Qaeda forever barred from entry? Will the United States share its terrorist watch list with the Taliban for them to enforce at their borders?… A good test of the agreement is to ask: What exactly do the Taliban have to do to fail at their obligation to deny safe haven to al-Qaeda? Under what conditions would the United States halt or reverse its withdrawal? The agreement does not say.”
Paul Miller, Lawfare Blog

“Under President Trump, the United States is widely seen to be committed to withdrawing from Afghanistan under almost any circumstances. There are no indications of what ‘conditions’ might slow or halt an American drawdown of troops short of a major attack by Al Qaeda launched with clear Taliban support. Not sustained violence against Afghan forces, nor smaller-scale terrorist attacks, nor continued Islamic State operations seem likely to prompt the United States to reverse course. The Taliban know this and so does the Afghan government, reducing nearly to nil America’s influence over events in Afghanistan…

“In committing to the Taliban to end the American military presence and drop sanctions, the United States… sacrificed its remaining leverage to help the government in intra-Afghan negotiations achieve critical shared objectives, like protecting democratic gains and preserving the rights of women. Given that intra-Afghan talks will take many months, if not years, to yield any progress, the United States is likely to withdraw before any deal is done, abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban wolves.”
Susan E. Rice, New York Times

Some, however, note that “Post-9/11 efforts to limit the transnational flow of resources and known terrorists have inhibited the ability of terrorists to strike out, and can continue to do so without a military presence in Afghanistan…

“Critics of withdrawal are right that a withdrawal wouldn’t mean that US interests in Afghanistan or the region vanish; they don’t. However, they are wrong that military interventions are the best, or only, tool to pursue these interests. Diplomatic, policing, and intelligence cooperation with countries that border Afghanistan can help to contain terrorist groups and inhibit their ability to travel beyond the region. Additionally, the US military presence itself is one of the biggest inhibitors to peace in Afghanistan, as the widely unpopular Taliban rely on the fight against a foreign occupation as their primary source of legitimacy.”
Adam Wunische, The Nation

Regarding the ICC, “The majority of Americans (56 percent) support the ICC and actually believe the United States should become a member. This number grows to 65 percent when Americans are told about how the court is a vehicle for promoting democratic values… ordinary citizens are more concerned about the ICC’s fairness and competence — and less concerned about whether U.S. personnel may be investigated. If Bensouda and her team can demonstrate impartiality and effectiveness in their work, they are likely to enjoy the trust and support of the U.S. public. In turn, this support might put pressure on policymakers to comply with the ICC investigation in the weeks, months and very likely years to come.”
Kelebogile Zvobgo, Washington Post

From the Right

The right is generally supportive of the troop withdrawal and critical of the ICC.

The right is generally supportive of the troop withdrawal and critical of the ICC.

“The sunk cost fallacy has been a highly effective lubricant of the U.S. foreign policy machinery… Every dollar spent and every American life lost on the battlefield is used as justification to maintain a status quo that is simply not working. To quit now is spun as a tragedy. But how logical is it to honor tragedy with more tragedy?… those counseling a reversal of full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan are merely worsening the pain… It’s time to embrace the reality staring us in the face — the sooner Afghanistan is left to the Afghans, the better off the U.S. will be.”
Daniel DePetris, Washington Examiner

“While most of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 received training in Afghanistan, much of their planning and preparation took place in the United States and Germany, including flight training… Terrorists are also highly mobile and not beholden to any particular territory. For example, both Taliban-friendly groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)-friendly militants operate just over the border in northwest Pakistan. It’s in this sector of Pakistan, a supposed ally, where the United States has long waged a shadow war against these groups…

“The Taliban [themselves] do not want to see American troops on Afghan soil ever again and are more concerned with seizing power in Kabul than they are attacking the United States. This certainly does not prevent terrorists from taking refuge in Afghanistan, of course. The ability to deny terrorists safe haven and prevent attacks is in large part outside the Taliban’s control, since there exists territory they do not control and the movement is quite fractured. But as long as the United States maintains an ‘I’ll be back’ posture, demonstrated with cruise missile strikes on Afghanistan in 1998 and the air/sea/special operations effort in the early part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Taliban will do all it can to prevent an American return.”
Edward Chang, The Federalist

Some, however, posit that “the deal looks worse than a simple withdrawal. America can leave all on its own without also agreeing to seek the release of Taliban prisoners. It can leave all on its own without promising to ease sanctions. So why agree to the additional concessions? America is making these concrete concessions in exchange for unenforceable promises from an untrustworthy enemy…

The American military in Afghanistan has not failed in its ultimate objective since 9/11. It has kept America safe from any terrible repeat of that dreadful day… A war-weary American public should resist the Trump administration’s retreat. It should not tolerate any agreement that reinforces and strengthens the Taliban. There are things that are worse than ‘endless war,’ and if we doubt that truth, there is a memorial in downtown Manhattan that should remind us that mortal threats can emerge even from the farthest reaches of the earth.”
David French, Time

Regarding the ICC, “[It] came into force in 2002 with a mandate to investigate genocide and other crimes against humanity when a country is unwilling or unable to do so. But once created the institution took on a life and agenda of its own, focusing disproportionately on the U.S. and Israel. The court has produced few convictions, but dictators use it as a tool to prosecute opponents while remaining unscathed themselves…

“Americans who believe in international institutions often lament that their countrymen don’t appreciate the value of global cooperation. They’d have more credibility with more Americans if they called out anti-American outfits like the International Criminal Court… [This investigation is] a disgraceful example of moral and legal equivalence that equates Islamist insurgents who have killed thousands of Afghan civilians with the U.S., which ousted al Qaeda from Afghanistan, liberated millions of women, and has sacrificed much to rebuild the country.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

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