I see that in his Washington Post op-ed Stephen Hadley continues to sustain the fantasy that creating a stable state in Afghanistan is within our powers:
The United States has vital national interests in Afghanistan. Since 9/11, preventing another terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland has remained our key objective. While the cost in lives and treasure has been too high, this objective has largely been achieved. But it has required a sustained U.S. troop presence, the active participation of our NATO allies and a close partnership with the Afghan government.
If the Trump administration now opts to draw down U.S. military forces, the NATO allies would go home and the Afghan state would likely collapse. The result would be a victory for the terrorists. It would undo the Trump administration’s recent success against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and provide the Islamic State a haven in Afghanistan from which to foment attacks on the United States.
Instead, the Trump administration can deliver another major blow against terrorism. The Islamic State and al-Qaeda seek to expand their presence in Afghanistan, but virtually none of the Afghan groups — including the Taliban — support them. They can be defeated in Afghanistan just as they are being pushed out of Iraq and Syria. This natural extension of the Iraq/Syria campaign would help consolidate the victory against the Islamic State. But it will require U.S. counterterrorism forces to continue operating alongside Afghan security forces.
The challenge will then be to preserve the victory and help the Afghan people stabilize their country so that the Islamic State and al-Qaeda do not return. This can be done with a political/diplomatic strategy that seeks an inclusive settlement among all Afghan political factions while creating a more legitimate, popularly supported government that addresses the conflict’s root causes.
However, it is this passage that caught my attention:
The big question is what to do about the Taliban. The answer: Test its interest in peace.
Defeating terrorist groups that threaten the United States does not include or require defeating the Taliban. The United States and NATO must make clear that they will fully support an Afghan-led political settlement involving all sectors of Afghan society — including the Taliban.
Is it merely that largely secularized Americans are incapable of understanding religious conviction? The Taliban are not liberal democratic politicians. For the Taliban to compromise is to relinquish what they believe their religion admonishes them to do. They aren’t interested in peace; they are interested in righteousness, in salvation.
And they aren’t going anywhere. There will be people in Afghanistan who hold beliefs like those of today’s Taliban for far the foreseeable future, possibly for as long as there are human beings in Afghanistan.
I agree with Mr. Hadley that our primary goals in Afghanistan should be counterterrorism. Propping up the Afghan government isn’t counterterrorism—it’s counterinsurgency.
The editors of the Washington Post, unsurprisingly, share Mr. Hadley’s fantasies:
Mr. Trump should chose a strategy with a clear, limited goal: shore up the Afghan government, help it gain greater legitimacy and strengthen its security forces. The point is not some kind of flashy victory but avoiding a terrible defeat. Achieving stability in Afghanistan is worth a modest commitment of U.S. troops, Special Operations forces and air power. A major surge of the size that President Barack Obama approved early in his first term is not being discussed. The point is to show the Taliban that it can’t topple the central government, and coax the Taliban, if possible, toward negotiations. Maybe the Taliban will never agree, but a continued U.S. effort is preferable to Afghanistan falling apart.
There is an alternative other than “abandoning Afghanistan” or continuing with the futile dream of a stable Afghan government but it is deeply unpopular and difficult for politicians to swallow. That’s why they hold on to visions of triumphant returns home accompanied by victory parades.