By Jon Dougherty
(TNS) This piece is written with the assumption that fewer than a handful of people currently working at The New York Times spent one second in combat — or even on a combat patrol — in Afghanistan at any point over the past 18 years, so if we’re wrong about that, we’ll take the hit.
But we don’t think we are.
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On Sunday, the Times ran a somber “news analysis” questioning President Donald Trump’s motives for seeking a peace deal in the war-torn country after nearly two decades of watching one American president after another send hundreds of thousands of troops there to fight a “wash, rinse, repeat” kind of war.
The crux of the ‘analysis’: Is this aÂ real peace deal, or is Trump just trying to offload this ‘war’ as a way of fulfilling a campaign promise?
To justify the question, the Times’ senior national security correspondent, David Sanger, essentially interviews “a parade of former national security aides” who, of course, are throwing shade at the president’s decision to do a deal and his motivations behind it:
President Trump has left no doubt that his first priority in Afghanistan is a peace treaty that would enable him to claim that he is fulfilling his vow to withdraw American troops.
But a parade of his former national security aides say he is far less interested in an actual Afghan peace.
And that creates an enormous risk for Mr. Trump and for Afghanistan: that, like President Richard M. Nixonâ€™sÂ peace deal with North VietnamÂ in January 1973, the accordÂ signed SaturdayÂ will speed an American exit and do little to stabilize an allied government. In the case of Vietnam, it took two years for the â€œdecent interval,â€ in Henry A. Kissingerâ€™s famous phrase, to expire and forÂ the South Vietnamese government to be overrun. …
Afghanistan in 2020, of course, is driven by a different dynamic than Vietnam a half-century ago. But there are haunting echoes.
Three successive American presidents have promised victory in Afghanistan, even if they each defined it differently. Each experienced failures of political will, and on the battlefield.
â€œOne risk here is that the president wakes up one morning and decides that he is just going to pull out the rest of the American troops,â€ said Douglas E. Lute, a former Army general who served first as Mr. Bushâ€™s coordinator on Afghanistan for the National Security Council and then stayed on for several years in a similar role for Mr. Obama before becoming American ambassador to NATO.
â€œThe odds of this breaking down, or coming to gridlock, are significant,â€ Lute said in an interview with the Times. â€œAnd if the Americans truly left, thereâ€™s reason to be concernedâ€ that the Taliban could ultimately take Kabul, just as the North Vietnamese took Saigon.
About the only thing Republicans and Democrats seem to be able to agree on these days isÂ remaining in Afghanistan…for some reason. Any reason.
In reflecting Lute’s observations, the Times noted further:
It is exactly that concern that led more than 20 Republicans and Democrats to send a letter this week to Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Esper warning that â€œthe Taliban is not a de facto counterterrorism partner, and pretending that they are ignores their longtime jihadist mission and actions.â€ It added, â€œThey have never publicly renounced Al Qaeda or turned over Al Qaeda leaders living in their safe havens,â€ or â€œapologized for harboring the terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks.â€
Earlier in the piece, though, Sanger managed to capture the essence of what really matters — to the president and the American people he was elected to serve:
Mr. Trump has long lamented the cost of â€œendless wars,â€ and by the time he took up direct negotiations with the Taliban, he knew American voters were interested mostly in one thing: ending participation in a war that has now dragged on for more than 18 years, its objectives always shifting.
Absolutely right. The crux of this peace deal — whether it lasts, whether it turns out the way some people in Washington want it to, or not — comes down to this president understanding not only what the American people really want, but also what’s best for the countryÂ at this point in timeÂ as it relates to Afghanistan.
As someone who spent a year there (2009-2010) as a member of an Army National Guard engineer battalion doing route clearance (finding and trying to dispose of IEDs before they found us), I can tell you this: ThereÂ is no strategy that the Pentagon is willing to implement that will ‘win the war’ in Afghanistan. Not one. At this point, it literally is wash, rinse, repeat.
And frankly, that is no strategy at all.
If we haven’t ‘ground down all Afghan resistance’ after two decades, when is it time to finally admit that we’re not going to?
President Trump thinks that time is now.
Is it an election year? Yep. But let’s remember Trump sought to end our involvement in AfghanistanÂ and Syria at the end of 2018, but in January 2019 he wasÂ rebuffed by Congress, as Al Jazeera reported.
So let’s cut through the BS, shall we? Let’s stop questioning the motives of a president who has very obviously and very clearly shown time and again hisÂ instincts are to take care of America and AmericansÂ first. He rightly knows the war in Afghanistan has long since become an exercise in futility. And what’s more, he is keenly aware that a majority of Americans agree withÂ him on getting out.
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The time has come. Whatever deals Afghans make with each other in terms of how the country will be governed after our departure is, frankly, none of our business. If the Taliban wind up in charge again, so be it.
The alternative — sending men and women to continue fighting and dying in Afghanistan for another 10, 20 years — just isn’t an option anymore, regardless of what The New York Times thinks.
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