March 3, 2020

US-Taliban Deal

The United States signed a deal with Taliban insurgents on Saturday that could pave the way toward a full withdrawal of foreign soldiers from Afghanistan and represent a step toward ending the 18-year-war in the nation.” Reuters

“Afghanistan’s president said Sunday that he will not free thousands of Taliban prisoners ahead of all-Afghan power-sharing talks set for next week [as laid out in the deal].” AP News

Meanwhile, “Taliban militants will not take part in intra-Afghan talks until the Afghan government releases about 5,000 of their prisoners, a spokesman said on Monday… The statement came as a reduction of violence period came to an end, and the Taliban said a resumption of operations against Afghan government forces could now take place

“An explosion at a football field in Afghanistan’s southeastern province of Khost killed at least three civilians and injured 11 on Monday, the interior ministry said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. [Taliban spokesman Zabihullah] Mujahid issued a statement denying any Taliban involvement.” Reuters

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From the Left

The left is generally supportive of the US-Taliban deal.

“There are some lessons here for negotiators. In the case of the seven-day ‘reduction in violence,’ they should be very explicit in the language of any treaty signed with the Taliban (or, for that matter, with anyone else): If the Americans expected the period of violence-reduction would be extended beyond the initial seven days, they should have stated so in the document. And they shouldn’t have agreed on a prisoner-exchange without the consent of the Afghan government, which after all is holding the Taliban prisoners… [The deal] may not be good enough to keep the Taliban from dominating the country again. But nothing was ever likely to be good enough to do that. And so it’s time to leave.”
Fred Kaplan, Slate

“This [prisoner swap] problem is something the Trump administration should’ve anticipated, or at least done more to manage beforehand. Experts note that the Taliban has long asked for a large prisoner release ahead of talks. That the US made it a precondition before the Afghan government and the Taliban can sit down was always going to rankle the government in Kabul… Afghanistan is still a long, long way from peace.”
Alex Ward, Vox

Nonetheless, “Americans have long run out of good reasons to continue dying and killing in a land whose many tribes make it notoriously difficult to govern and whose mountainous terrain renders it all but impossible to conquer. American soldiers deployed to the country as recently as last [week] had trouble articulating what their mission there was, short of making it home in one piece… President Trump has made no secret of his aversion to foreign military entanglements, and he pledged to get the troops out. It’s an election year, but the politics of the moment should not obscure the fact that ending American involvement in the war is the right thing to do.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

“I have no doubt that if Barack Obama had signed such a deal with the Taliban, he would have been pilloried by the same Republican politicians and Fox News pundits now cheering Trump’s agreement. Obama, for example, was scorned and slammed for releasing five Taliban detainees in exchange for a captured U.S. soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in 2014; Trump, on the other hand, has agreed to the release of an astonishing 5,000 Taliban prisoners… [But] What’s the alternative?… credit where credit is due… the Trump administration was able to achieve in its first term what the Bush and Obama administrations were either unable or unwilling to do over two terms each.”
Mehdi Hasan, The Intercept

The right is divided about the US-Taliban deal.Some argue that “When it comes to the Afghan war, the mistake was not in the intervention itself, rather in how it was managed. Soon after the initial invasion crippled the Taliban and sent it into hiding, its leadership consistently asked to meet at the negotiating table, but were rebuffed… This was a mistake. Talks could have brought a reduction in NATO involvement under better terms than are being agreed now. The intervention could have been conducted with a pragmatism that acknowledged the impossibility of all-out military victory and brought the Taliban to the table early…

“There are many examples of effective intervention and long-term presence, and they're not obscure: Japan, Taiwan, and Eastern Europe have their own, complex, imperfect stories, but each is a relatively stable, prosperous beneficiary of many decades of political and military investment… Another, lesser known example is the British-led United Nations involvement in Sierra Leone, in which military intervention ended a violent decade-long civil war… Rather than vacillating between opposite doctrines that say intervening is good or not, or realistic or not, democracies should be engaging their collective thought to get better at it.”
William Gritten, The Week

From the Right

The right is divided about the US-Taliban deal.

The right is divided about the US-Taliban deal.

“After nearly 19 years, 2,448 U.S. troop fatalities (7 U.S. troops have died since January), $750 billion in taxpayer money (not including all of the borrowing, inflation, and medical costs for soldiers who have returned home with life-altering injuries), and no light at the end of the tunnel, the American public see no reason to stay mired in a civil war that has lasted for four decades. There is no victory in Afghanistan, only more lost lives, more resources thrown down the toilet, and more distraction from issues that really matter to U.S. national security.”
Daniel DePetris, Washington Examiner

“No one, including our negotiators, expects the Taliban to be honorable in abiding by this agreement. Their nature and history have shown they will act ruthlessly in their own interests… But we have not been able to impose our will on them using military force, so we must acknowledge that and move on… Almost twenty years of U.S. blood and treasure had not taken us to a victory any more lasting than when we first deposed the Taliban at the end of 2001… This initial agreement begins the disentanglement process and that seems the best path for us. We can always return to military action if an actual rather than potential danger emerges.”
Jim Hanson, Fox News

“The Taliban lack transnational terrorist ambitions, and it’s hard to imagine they would ever harbor anti-U.S. terrorists after what happened the last time they did that. (The war hasn't been much fun for them, either.) The argument that we need to stay because there could possibly be a threat to the U.S. from terrorism someday is ultimately an argument for occupying the entire world. Moreover, the importance of terrorists having a territorial safe-haven is overrated. In the age of online radicalization and lone-wolf attacks, it's less important than ever for terrorists to have an actual territorial base for their operations…

Trump’s Taliban deal simply reflects the reality on the ground. Frankly, the president should embrace any exit route at all if it means no more Americans will die in a fruitless, failed attempt at nation building.”
Brad Polumbo, Washington Examiner

Opponents, however, argue, “It’s understandable that we want to find a way out of the Afghan war after 18 years of heartache and toil. But we shouldn’t want the entire effort, and the Afghan government, to collapse. We could have minimized our troop commitment by dropping down to 8,600 troops unilaterally. Making the promise of a total withdrawal only reduces our leverage and that of the Afghan government. In theory, we can always stop a withdrawal based on Taliban non-compliance, even though there are no verification provisions in the public agreement. But the worry has to be that President Trump wants the deal as a justification for a withdrawal he is determined to undertake one way or the other.”
The Editors, National Review

“The concessions are significant… [In addition to troop withdrawal] The U.S. will lift its sanctions on Taliban leaders and promises to work on behalf of the Taliban at the United Nations to have international sanctions lifted, too. The language of the deal assumes that the current elected government of Afghanistan will be removed in order to make the new government more ‘representative,’ meaning more Taliban-inclusive…

“After 19 years in Afghanistan, there are good reasons so many Americans want to leave. But it matters greatly how we leave. And the wrong way is to withdraw celebrating an agreement without enforcement mechanisms, that downplays the Taliban’s radicalism, elevates their position in Afghanistan, and even seems to leave open the possibility of U.S. taxpayer dollars for a Taliban-led government. That’s not a peace deal, it’s an exit deal. And it’s a bad one.”
Steve Hayes, The Dispatch

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