Trump’s Afghanistan ‘peace deal’ evidences Tucker Carlson’s ‘salesman’ claim
Tucker Carlson is right: President Donald Trump is a “salesman, a talker, a boaster, a compulsive self-promoter.” And as Carlson recently acknowledged on his Fox News show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the president is a “full-blown B.S. artist at times.” Nowhere is this more true than in Trump’s Thanksgiving porky about peace in Afghanistan.
The president unveiled this fantasy after making a surprise visit to U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan during the Thanksgiving holiday. He announced an intent to reduce American troops in that country from about 14,000 to approximately 8,600. In remarks alongside Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Trump said: “The Taliban wants to make a deal — we’ll see if they make a deal. If they do, they do, and if they don’t, they don’t. That’s fine.”
Trump claimed “we’re meeting with [the Taliban] and we’re saying it has to be a cease-fire, and they didn’t want to do a cease-fire and now they do want to do a cease-fire.” He expressed confidence there would be a cease-fire.
To be clear, the Taliban understand they don’t have to do anything. They’re already winning. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported in January that the share of districts under government control or influence was just 53.8 percent in October 2018. According to SIGAR, 46 percent of the country was either under Taliban control or “contested.” This is after a war that has raged on for 18 years, taken the lives of more than 2,400 American troops and cost U.S. an estimated $1 trillion so far.
Trump repeatedly has signaled his intention to withdraw from Afghanistan. Once he does, the Taliban will swoop in and take over Kabul because the Afghan security forces will be unable to stop them. The Afghan security forces suffer from absenteeism, corruption, dubious commitment and poor morale. The current stalemate is not an indication of their powers or diminished Taliban capability to inflict massive casualties or take control of Kabul. It likely is a tactical ploy by the Taliban to wait out the U.S. troops and take over the country with minimal casualties when things are more convenient.
One of the arguments peddled by the defense establishment in support of maintaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan is that a U.S. departure would leave a void for rivals to fill. They point to Russia and China as probable replacements for the U.S. in Afghanistan. But this is unlikely, because both countries are wary of expending their troops’ lives in Afghanistan. Russia has learned bitter lessons there, and China’s strategic preference has been commercial domination rather than military occupation. Moreover, China has leverage in Pakistan, which is the Taliban’s moral and economic sponsor. China can serve its strategic interests by using Pakistan as a proxy to gain access to any valuable resources in Afghanistan.
Trump’s instincts about fleeing Afghanistan likely are correct. It is an endless war with slim prospects for peace in the foreseeable future, and the expenses vastly outweigh any strategic gains. The idea that spending a trillion dollars in Afghanistan will safeguard the U.S. homeland from attacks is folly — it is not backed up by evidence and there are less expensive alternatives to prevent terrorism here.
However, fleeing Afghanistan for pragmatic reasons does not have to be dressed up in a fake peace deal. First, negotiated peace with the Taliban is impossible — they don’t meet the minimum conditions for a credible deal. The Taliban have never exhibited a basic commitment to keep promises, value stability, respect human rights, and accord protections for women and children. They have no record evidencing trust in institutions designed to monitor, verify and correct commitments, or even the most rudimentary good faith. And any words seeking to ensure the above enshrined in a peace deal essentially are meaningless when the signatory is a barbaric entity beyond the pale of legal or ethical norms. In short, there is no credible way to make a peace deal in a meaningful sense of that term.
Further, inviting the Taliban to the White House and signing a peace deal so that Trump can get a photo op would have ugly consequences. It would give the Taliban legitimacy and undermine the credibility of the U.S. in the region. The Taliban’s spinmeisters and propagandists would spin the peace deal as American defeat.
Tucker Carlson’s insight — “If Trump hadn’t gotten rich in real estate, he could have made a fortune selling cars” — may be correct. Any good car salesman knows a rotten deal when he sees one. Can Trump stop fooling himself about the Taliban and walk away from this fake peace deal?
Sandeep Gopalan (@DrSGopalan) is vice chancellor and executive vice president of academic affairs at Piedmont International University in North Carolina. He previously was a professor of law and pro vice chancellor for academic innovation at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. He has co-chaired American Bar Association committees on aerospace/defense and international transactions, was a member of the ABA’s immigration commission, and was dean of law schools in Ireland and Australia. He has taught law in four countries.