On Tuesday evening, President Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan, where he delivered a surprisingly short and unexciting speech. Given its remarkable brevity and relatively low count of personal pronouns, some wondered if it had been edited aboard Air Force One to remove some of the Osama bin Laden football-spiking that has been generating a backlash against the President.
As delivered, the speech contained only a few direct references to bin Laden – who, the President reminded us, “established a safe haven for his terrorist organization” in Afghanistan, and later “escaped across the border and established safe havens in Pakistan.”
“And one year ago,” said Obama, “from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set – to defeat al Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild – is within reach.” It’s a good thing we had him around to set the goal of defeating al Qaeda, because nobody else would have thought of that.
How about bin Laden’s old pals in the Taliban? They’ve been killing an awful lot of U.S. troops lately, often with the assistance of the very Afghan security forces we trained up. In fact, 69 percent of American casualties in Afghanistan have occurred since President Obama took office, overseeing the last three years of a ten-year war. There have been 54 confirmed killings of American soldiers by their Afghan “allies” since 2007, which is when the Pentagon began tracking such “green-on-blue” attacks. However, a recent MSNBC article noted that even this grim tally is misleading, because it only counts successful murders of American troops, not injuries, near-misses, or collateral damage.
Not to worry, because President Obama assured us “my Administration has been in direct discussions with the Taliban,” and his team has made it clear they can be a part of Afghanistan’s future, provided they “break with al Qaeda, renounce violence, and abide by Afghan laws.”
Happily, according to Obama, “many members of the Taliban – from foot soldiers to leaders – have indicated an interest in reconciliation,” and are eager to get marching toward a brighter future, now that “a path to peace” has been “set before them.”
No sooner had President Obama signed a security pact with Afghan president Hamid Karzai – the ostensible purpose of his surprise visit, although it was nothing that actually called for his physical presence in Afghanistan on the highly touted one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s little visit from SEAL Team Six – and lifted off for Washington than our new partners in peace staged a suicide bombing attack on a Western compound, killing six people and wounding 17 more.
The Taliban announced these murders were a direct response to Obama’s visit, and vowed to intensify their spring offensive with more attacks in Kabul. “This attack was to make clear our reaction to Obama’s trip to Afghanistan. The message was that instead of signing a strategic partnership deal with Afghanistan, he should think about taking his troops out from Afghanistan and leave it to Afghans to rebuild their country,” a Taliban spokesman told the Reuters news service.
Fortunately, this all happened after Obama’s departure, so the President was able to safely return to Washington and immediately hold two campaign fundraisers.
So, we’re left with the President talking about troop withdrawals, and “moving forward” as we “emerge from a decade of conflict abroad” to enter the “light of a new day,” while offering peace paths to savages who violently resent his characterization of them as obedient partners in a new Afghanistan.
Nowhere in the President’s remarks was the word “victory” used, and a strenuous effort was made to separate al Qaeda from the Taliban, who are clearly not impressed by Hamid Karzai’s pieces of paper, and will most likely be running Kabul again within a year or two. Meanwhile, the American people offer little support for continued operations in Afghanistan, having apparently lost whatever dwindling appetite they had for the place after the recent Koran-burning massacres.
Can an alliance, coupled with a vague sense of non-victorious technical success, be asserted through political and diplomatic will? The President said that “Afghans want to fully assert their sovereignty and build a lasting peace.” The same could be said about every hostile force in history. The bloody sticking point is their definition of “peace,” and what is required to achieve it.
There are lessons to be learned from Afghanistan, chief among them the need for a republic such as America to strike hard and fast, rather than lingering for even the most benevolent and constructive occupation. History will judge whether we had more long-term success in Iraq. On September 11, 2013, which nation will appear more similar to its status on September 11, 2001?
The Taliban’s brand of militant Islam provides impenetrable resistance to well-meaning cultural stewardship, because it always comes down to offers of a peaceful path leading over bright horizons… refused with murderous commands from enemies with a dreadful clarity of purpose. Conflict always boils down to overcoming resistance, and the kind of resistance we’ve seen from the Taliban cannot be melted with sugar. We might have few options beyond talking about reconciliation and peaceful tomorrows while we draw down our forces, but it’s still surreal to hear the President actually saying the words, and trying to appear shocked by the Taliban’s predictable reply.