U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo won’t sign his name to the pact he and his team negotiated with the so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, better known as the Taliban — but not for the reason Time magazine wants you to believe.
The agreement is supposed to bring something akin to peace to Afghanistan, after nearly 18 years of war involving the U.S. and NATO, which removed the Taliban from power in the weeks after the 9/11/2001 terror attacks. Under the “tightly held” terms of the agreement, the U.S. would reduce its presence to fewer than 9,000, down about 5,400 from the current figure.
Sources tell Time magazine (linked above) that the deal, negotiated by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, “doesn’t guarantee the continued presence of U.S. counterterrorism forces to battle al Qaeda, the survival of the pro-U.S. government in Kabul, or even an end to the fighting in Afghanistan.” An anonymous Afghan official said that the agreement is “all based on hope. There is no trust. There is no history of trust. There is no evidence of honesty and sincerity from the Taliban.” And that the Taliban believes that “they have fooled the U.S. while the U.S. believes that should the Taliban cheat, they will pay a hefty price.”
Despite Time‘s headline and reporter Kimberly Dozier’s insistence in the first paragraph that the deal is so “risky” that Pompeo won’t sign it, the rest of the story indicates otherwise. Further down in Dozier’s report, she writes that while the “Taliban asked for Pompeo to sign an agreement with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” he refused because having “the Secretary of State sign such a document would amount to de facto recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political entity.” That seems wise to me, rather than an indication of some big rift within the State Department, or between President Trump and Pompeo.
As to the anonymous Afghan government official’s worries, I’m not sure I see the problem. Does anyone believe that the Taliban can be trusted? Does anyone believe the pro-U.S. government won’t fall without heavy U.S. assistance? Does anyone think that we won’t have to continue bombing jihadis there with or without a peace deal? And did anyone at any point think that any piece of paper would end the fighting in Afghanistan, where tribal warfare has been the norm since antiquity?
No sane person believes any of these things.
By his lights, the Afghan official is right to try to get U.S. forces to stay, since his head might be on the line (literally) if heavy fighting comes back to Kabul. But if the disingenuousness of Dozer’s reporting is any indication, the press is going to try to murder Trump (figuratively) for bringing our troops home after nearly two decades of war that became mostly pointless years ago. If Obama were bringing them home, you can bet the reporting would be quite different.
We’ve done all we can Afghanistan. We tried to build a nation where there never was one, we tried to bring modern sensibilities to a society which is mostly pre-modern, and it’s OK to admit that it didn’t work out. If we have to leave a few boots on the ground, just enough to tell the bombers where to go, then so be it. Other than that, it’s time to come home.