The American Agreement with the Taliban Dismisses the Lessons of the Recent Past

March 4, 2020 | David French
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Since the United States concluded a deal with the Taliban on Saturday, the Islamist group has already carried out multiple attacks on Afghan government positions. Meanwhile, the agreement itself trades concrete steps by Washington—an immediate withdrawal of some troops, withdrawal of the rest within fourteen months, and pressure on Kabul to release 5,000 prisoners—for vague assurances from the Taliban about breaking with al-Qaeda. David French writes:

[T]he agreement released to the public provides no verification or enforcement provisions for these assurances, and once America is out of Afghanistan, our ability to enforce those promises absent a new, substantial military buildup will be limited to nonexistent. In other words, we will be placing our faith in the Taliban to help protect American national security.

The American military in Afghanistan has . . . kept America safe from any terrible repeat of [the September 11 attacks]. It has removed the Taliban from power, and denied al-Qaeda and other enemies the safe havens they need to reconstitute and re-emerge as a worldwide terrorist menace. No, we have not extinguished the Taliban, nor have we transformed Afghanistan. But we have defended our nation, and we are now defending our nation while suffering only a small fraction of the casualties (and deploying a fraction of the troops) from the height of the Afghan war.

Debates about “endless war” all too often presume that our conflicts with jihadists can end on our command. They cannot. If jihadists do not choose to lay down their arms, our best efforts to end America’s long conflict will come to naught. Indeed, our very effort to extricate ourselves from these conflicts can end up bolstering our enemies and harming our national security.

We’re forgetting the lessons of our recent past. In 2011, the Obama administration removed the last remaining military footprint from Iraq. It did so when American enemies in Iraq were far weaker than American enemies in Afghanistan. . . . Yet three years later, American forces were back. The rise of Islamic State led to killing on a mass scale and metastasized into an international terror threat. America was compelled to respond.

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