September 9, 2019

Taliban Meeting Canceled

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

On Saturday, President Donald Trump tweeted, “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… an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations. What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?” Twitter

“The surprise announcement left in doubt the future of the draft accord worked out last week by Zalmay Khalilzad, the special U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan, for a drawdown of thousands of U.S. troops over the coming months… Under the draft accord, some 5,000 U.S. troops would be withdrawn over the coming months in exchange for guarantees Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militant attacks on the United States and its allies.” Reuters

See past issues

From the Left

The left is skeptical of any deal with the Taliban and critical of Trump’s diplomatic efforts.

“It’s appalling that Trump would have even considered hosting Taliban leaders just days before the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks plotted by their ally, Osama bin Laden. Imagine what Trump — who excoriated President Barack Obama for negotiating with the Taliban — would have said if Obama had invited them for a sleepover. But Trump’s explanation for the cancellation — as with most things he says — makes little sense… the Taliban never agreed to a cease-fire. It is bizarre to call off negotiations because the other side continues doing something it never agreed to stop doing… The Afghanistan mess confirms what has been obvious from the start… Trump is a better dealbreaker than dealmaker.”
Max Boot, Washington Post

“When he blamed his Camp David fiasco on a Taliban suicide bombing last week, which killed a US soldier and several civilians, he was probably being less than candid. It’s likely he got cold feet at the last minute about an agreement that looked dangerously ill-judged – and which could see him blamed for a resurgence in Afghanistan of both al-Qaida and Islamic State. This snakes-and-ladders diplomacy mirrors his much-hyped, on-off talks with North Korea and his up-and-down stance on Iran, where he has blown hot and cold over a summit with Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president.”
Simon Tisdall, The Guardian

The Trump administration seems to be trying to thread an impossible needle: to cut a peace deal with the Taliban, who are demanding a total American withdrawal from Afghanistan, while at the same time ensuring that the country does not revert to what Trump has termed a ‘Harvard for terrorists,’ which a complete US withdrawal would surely help to enable. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is treating the Taliban as if the group is a government-in-waiting while simultaneously undercutting the legitimate Afghan government…

“The Taliban has consistently refused to negotiate directly with the elected Afghan government, despite the fact that the outcome of their talks with the United States will deeply affect the Afghan people the Afghan government represents. The cancelled Camp David talks appear to have been an effort to bring Taliban leaders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani together, since Ghani was also going to be attending… The winner from the canceled Camp David summit is the elected Afghan president Ghani, who will run for reelection at the end of this month and may well win. And whoever wins that election will be in a far stronger position to insist that the next round of negotiations with the Taliban must include the duly elected Afghan government.”
Peter Bergen, CNN

“It’s not the first time Trump, a real estate mogul and reality show star who wrote a book called ‘The Art of the Deal,’ has stumbled in his attempts to strike deals that he promised voters in 2016 would give the U.S. an edge. He has been unable to secure a new, more comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran as he promised he would do. He has met three times with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, but has made little progress in getting Kim to abandon his nuclear arsenal. His trade talks with China are going nowhere. And while his administration did manage to come to a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, it has yet to gain approval in Congress and it’s not drastically different from NAFTA itself…

“President Donald Trump’s boasts about his dealmaking skills may have helped him win in 2016. But after this weekend’s events, he has little to back up those claims on the world stage heading into 2020.”
Nahal Toosi, Anita Kumar, Wesley Morgan and Victoria Guida, Politico

“The temptation for the U.S. to exit Afghanistan grows stronger with news of every bombing and ambush inflicted on civilians, Afghan security forces or U.S. and NATO troops. But a withdrawal that doesn’t keep Afghanistan from becoming a rogue state, that fails to safeguard women’s rights, that leads to the collapse of legitimate Afghan governance, would prove disastrous — both for Afghans and, in future years, for America.”
Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune

“Trump’s defenders will say this evidence is all circumstantial. But circumstantial evidence is not weak evidence: it’s simply evidence based on the circumstances in which an act of wrongdoing is committed — such as the license plate of a car that speeds away from a bank just after that bank is robbed. Criminals are convicted on such evidence all the time. They will also say that there’s no explicit quid pro quo proposal here. But… ‘even when a corrupt deal is struck implicitly, the government can still prosecute extortion on a quid pro quo basis. Circumstantial evidence can be enough to prove a criminal exchange.’…

“In the absence of an explicit quid pro quo over restarting aid, the context and circumstances are what will become the focus of the investigation. There is enough here to support impeachment. Whether it is also enough to convince Republicans and lead to removal is another matter.”
Noah Feldman, Bloomberg

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) “insisted the president couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong because, in the end, Ukraine got its money without committing to any investigations. This point of view has radical implications for America’s system of justice and overcrowded prisons, if Mr. Jordan in fact truly believes that all inmates convicted of attempted crimes are innocent of wrongdoing… Perhaps the most telling remark was offered by a Republican staff lawyer, Stephen Castor, who suggested that while the president’s behavior may have been highly irregular, ‘it’s not as outlandish as it could be.’ Here’s a tip: When ‘not as outlandish as itcould be’ is your strongest defense, it’s time to rethink your position.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

From the Right

The right is divided about negotiating with the Taliban.

From the Right

The right is divided about negotiating with the Taliban.

“Trump made the right call. The Taliban proved they are currently unwilling to negotiate seriously… This does not, however, change the crucial importance of diplomacy in Afghanistan. We cannot fight our way to victory in Afghanistan. A peace deal with the Taliban will ultimately be necessary. But Trump's decision reflects a recognition that peace requires more than words. True peace requires the shared goodwill of both parties to sustain it. Until the Taliban changes its mind, American must continue to defend our interests in Afghanistan…

“American and NATO efforts in Afghanistan are now centered on counter-terrorism and supporting Afghan security forces with logistics, training, planning, intelligence, and aviation support. The Trump administration is also employing a long overdue pressure strategy toward Pakistan… An unconditional withdrawal from Afghanistan would inspire Salafi-Jihadist confidence around the world, and invite the Taliban to help rebuild al Qaeda. It would betray our allies abroad and endanger us at home. Maintaining military pressure on the Taliban while strengthening the Afghan government is a far better course. It strengthens us while incentivizing the Taliban to pursue what is most needed: a serious peace.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

“The Taliban has been killing indiscriminately for decades in its quest to gain, hold, and regain power. Did Trump not understand this? What did he think the Taliban is, an agrarian reform group?… The Taliban wants to be seen as driving the U.S. out of Afghanistan under extreme duress. It wants our exit to look more like Vietnam than Iraq (under President Obama). By driving us out in this way, the Taliban can claim, correctly, to have avenged the victory we achieved under President Bush when we drove the Taliban from power. It can also claim to be the true successor to the various Afghan groups that have defeated invading powers down through the centuries.”
Paul Mirengoff, Power Line Blog

Some suggest that “Mr. Trump might be tempted to resume talks with the Taliban, but he should be in no hurry… Critics who complain about ‘forever wars’ overlook that the U.S. has had troops deployed in Europe since World War II and in Korea since the armistice of 1953. These deployments have helped to keep the peace with limited American casualties

“There is no domestic political clamor for the U.S. to withdraw all troops, especially with casualties low. The political harm for Mr. Trump would be far greater if a pullout triggered the collapse of the Afghan government and a humanitarian tragedy. A revived terrorist sanctuary in Afghanistan would also erase the political benefit for Mr. Trump from destroying the ISIS caliphate in Syria. The jihadist movement world-wide would declare a great victory… You can’t have a successful peace negotiation if one side has no interest in peace.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Others, however, argue that “many of the same people who now vociferously protest against a political deal with the Taliban are some of the very same geniuses who believed that enough airpower and time could sway the insurgency into watering down its demands or defeat them outright… Let there be no mistake: if the Taliban is stupid enough to allow Al Qaeda or the Islamic State to plan terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland or U.S. interests overseas, they can expect a tenfold military response… There is nothing in the agreement that prohibits Washington from exercising the right of self-defense, and the Taliban should be under no illusions about the willingness of Trump—or any future U.S. president—to authorize the full weight of the U.S. military if the situation requires it.”
Daniel R. DePetris, The National Interest

“The new [Afghan] government we helped set up controls almost no territory outside a couple of cities and the Taliban will wreck them the moment we’re gone… The war in Afghanistan was always going to end in only one way, and I’m hardly the first person to say this. At some point, America and our allies are going to have to leave… The remaining question is why we’re dragging out the inevitable. If that’s how this story ends anyway, why not just rip the bandaid off and get out of there now?”
Jazz Shaw, Hot Air

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“After adding in the ultra-millionaire’s tax and factoring in the other capital taxes Warren wants to levy — on financial transactions, on unrealized capital gains, on corporations — we’d be asking every billionaire to hand over more than two-thirds of their total wealth over a 10-year period. If the government actually managed to collect it, their fortunes would rapidly erode — and so would tax collections. The plan might be a good way to smash wealth, but it’s a terrible way to fund the nation’s health-care system…

“If Warren makes it to the White House, and tries to pass a plan, the Congressional Budget Office will eventually attach more reasonable numbers, with more defensible assumptions, sparking an even more spectacular political blowback than the one that greeted Friday’s announcement. Outside of the progressive Twitterati, there isn’t necessarily an enormous constituency for spending $20.5 trillion to herd every American into a national health insurance program; there would be even less support for spending what Warren’s plan would actually cost.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

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