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Withdrawing from Afghanistan: What’s the Rest of Our Plan?
Posted by Josh Mull on March 12th, 2010

It’s pretty much conventional wisdom at this point that we’re going to have to negotiate with the Taliban. Washington, Kabul, and Islamabad will divvy them up into “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban,” with the good ones being the guys we’ll talk to and the bad ones will presumably be assassinated or captured. Obviously, the US and Pakistan shouldn’t be dictating affairs to the Afghan government, particularly one so corrupt and illegitimate as Karzai’s regime, and we’re still essentially killing the Afghans we don’t like and propping up the ones we do like. But let’s focus on the “good Taliban,” that is the people the US government hopes will rule Afghanistan after we’re done. Who are the good ones? Joshua Foust tells us about one, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar:

This is a man, we learn from Charlie Wilson’s War (the good book, not the uneven movie), who was renowned for skinning people alive when he considered them insufficiently Muslim—to say nothing of his habit of switching sides and murdering everyone close to him so often he makes Dostum look downright loyal in comparison.

So the good Taliban are religious extremists, mass murderers, and war criminals. That’s who we get to negotiate with. And how will that work out? Foust continues:

…declaring negotiations is a dance with a long and storied and utterly failed history in Afghanistan. Indeed, none of the factions in Afghanistan, including Hamid Karzai, have ever approached a given set of negotiations in good faith—not in 2007, not in 2005, and not in 2002.

We’re negotiating with a horrible criminal, and maybe we don’t even mean it, and maybe he doesn’t either. Even if you support the US goals of security, stability, and good governance in Afghanistan, how is that even close to a good plan for achieving those goals? What kind of good governance do you get from negotiating through a corrupt puppet like Karzai? What kind of security and stability do you get by installing child-rapists and mass murderers into the government? And that’s if the rest of the plan works out great, and we’re able to kill or capture all the bad Taliban, and the rest of the Afghan and Pakistani insurgents just magically stop fighting the civil war that they believe they’re winning.

Why is that the plan? We’re concerned about democracy, human rights, and terrorism and that’s what we came up with? Part of the problem might be that critics of the war have over-emphasized only one alternative: pulling out the military immediately. And as we saw on Wednesday’s debate in Congress over H.Con.Res. 248, the public debate was a modest victory, but that victory doesn’t matter if we lose the debate. Tom Hayden writes:

A plain reading of yesterday’s vote on the Kucinich war powers resolution is that an overwhelming majority of the House has authorized the Afghanistan war, including a majority of Democrats. The war now has greater legitimacy. The vote was 356-65-9.

(If Rep. John Conyers had been present, the dissenting bloc would have been 66, including just five Republicans. Few members took the option of abstaining.)

Strong Kucinich supporters will feel vindicated that their hero took a lonely stand and forced the House to a moment of choice. Critics will note that a dubious war has been legitimized, and that it will be more complicated for those who voted “aye” to reverse course in the months ahead.

The outcome will make the anti-war forces appear weaker for now than they are, and appearances do matter.

Exactly. The tiny victory the anti-war movement is claiming now is actually a huge defeat. I’m willing to hear the other side out on this, but I think our problem is that even though proponents of the war have to support evil folks like Hekmatyar, that still sounds better than pulling out immediately and ostensibly abandoning the goals of human rights, terrorism, etc. Quite simply, we need a better plan. Rather than focusing on an immediate withdrawal of troops, which is just one cornerstone of our plan, we need to emphasize what we can do to meet the other side’s needs. We want an end to military aggression, granted, but what do we plan to do about women’s rights? What are we going to do about terrorism?

Read the resolution:

H.Con.Res.248 – Directing the President, pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution, to remove the United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan.

  1. by no later than 30 days after this resolution is adopted; or
  2. if the President determines that it is not safe to remove them by such date, by no later than December 31, 2010, or such earlier date that the President determines that they can be safely removed.

Nothing about terrorism, human rights, good governance, regional stability. Nothing to address any of the arguably legitimate goals in Afghanistan, just our one piece about removing the military. We need policy that can address all of these issues, not just one piece. This shouldn’t be impossible, look at the plan they already have, they’re accomplishing the opposite of their goals; spreading good governance with western-backed puppets, protecting civilians by killing them with military violence, protecting human rights by elevating war criminals and sociopaths. Opponents of the war can certainly come up with something better than that.

Let me put this to you. Let’s collect every single positive suggestion you’ve seen on Afghanistan, no matter the size or scope, no matter where it comes from or who it comes from. How do we deal with human rights, governance, development/reconstruction, terrorism, and regional stability without a military? Joshua Foust has an example for us:

This presents an incredible opportunity for the newly installed government to establish a sustainable set of governance institutions. Rather than following the established ISAF model of focusing on law-and-order, which has at best a mixed record, Haji Zahir and his ISAF sponsors should focus first and foremost on establishing a stable tax regime, including checks and balances necessary to minimize the predatory behavior that ruined the previous government’s reputation.

Obviously we don’t want any “installed governments” or ISAF interference, ending the military aggression is after all a foundation of our plan, but there was nothing in Rep. Kucinich’s bill about “establishing a stable tax regime,” or anything like it. Yet that’s just one piece of the puzzle we need to consider if we want to have a fully-realized plan for Afghanistan.

Now what else? Post your thoughts in the comments and on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page. If we can compile all of these and put them into policy form, then the next time Rep. Kucinich, or whoever, presents a resolution on Afghanistan, it will be full of policy ideas to address each of our objectives in Afghanistan and not just, as Rep. King termed it, a “retreat resolution.”

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan.

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