Perhaps we're foolish to even take the bait in seriously considering the possibility of the U.S. actually ending its seventeen-year invasion of Afghanistan. After all, although President Trump says he wants to end the war, he:
A. Frequently doesn't mean what he says;
B. Often doesn't know what he's talking about when he is being sincere; and
C. Will generally let the military steer him away from whatever anti-interventionist instincts he may actually have.
On the other hand, any brief flash of attention given to the prospect of actually bringing this forever war to a close is probably an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up.
And certainly Ryan Crocker, for one, appears to be taking it seriously. Crocker, Dean of Texas A&M University's George Bush School of Government and Public Service, has done two stints as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. He has also served as Ambassador to Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Syria, serving under Presidents Bush (George W), Clinton, and Obama. George W. Bush once called him "America's Lawrence of Arabia." In short, he is the embodiment of the Washington bipartisan Middle East policy consensus underlying our continual military intervention in the region. And he is deeply troubled about the reports of possible "exit talks."
As the headline of his recent Washington Post opinion piece says, Crocker worries that "This deal is a surrender." He told the New York Times, "It just reminds me of the Paris peace talks in Vietnam. By going to the table, we basically were telling the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, 'We surrender, we're here to just work out the terms.'" Which seems a fair enough analogy, but we might then also fairly raise a question in response. We know that Crocker believes that we should "soldier on" into an eighteenth or nineteenth year in Afghanistan, but is his analogy meant to suggest that we should still be in Vietnam? And before you dismiss this as a facetious cheapshot, let's look at what else the man has to say.
In a recent Foreign Policy interview, Crocker told the journal that
"The whole region, the greater Middle East, learned a long time ago that indigenous forces cannot stand up to the forces of the West. You're not going to keep them out. Put up some kind of token resistance, suffer as few losses as possible, go to ground, and be ready to fight the next day, month, year, or decade. We've seen that over and over. In Iraq, we were at mission accomplished before our opponents had even organized for conflict. Take it back as far as you want. Napoleon in Egypt, 1798. Our adversaries have learned they can wait it out. We did it in Iraq. We did it in Lebanon. I was there for part of it. The Marines get blown up in 1983. We announce that the mission continues, but because of changes in the battlefield situation, instead of being on shore, the Marines are going to be on ships, in early '84. And then one day, when nobody was paying attention, those ships steamed away. " Again, our adversaries have learned very well."
Napoleon in Egypt, 1798! Is there any way to understand this other than as an argument for permanent western military occupation of the Middle East? "Our adversaries have learned they can wait it out," he says. Well yes, those "adversaries" have generally actually been part of the indigenous population, which, as a rule, waits - and usually hopes - for occupying armies to go back to their homes, which sooner or later they will always do.
We can be grateful for one thing here - at least Crocker doesn't subject the reader to the litany of "universal western values" that were supposedly being upheld by these various wars and occupations. And although this statement reveals one major American foreign policy player's commitment to Middle East intervention on a level that beggars belief, again better to know the depths of what we're up against.
And there's more. Crocker also reveals a chilling vision of how the masters of war regard the pawns of war, i.e., actual soldiers. Weighing the meaning of current negotiations with the Taliban, he told the New York Times, "I imagine we and the Afghans have killed most of the slow and stupid. The ones who are still in the Taliban after 18 years are now tough, committed, and I can't imagine them signing on to any meaningful compromise. They'll just talk compromise." We killed "the slow and stupid?" And what of the more than two thousand Americans killed there? Were they our "slow and stupid?"
To be fair, Crocker does make a serious argument for continuing to support the Afghan government, which "Washington has spent nearly two decades propping up" (as the Foreign Policy interview's introduction describes it - with no apparent irony intended). He asks, "what's going to happen to Afghan women? The women we encouraged to step forward, the ones that we made a major effort to get back into schools. What about them? And there is no assurance or guarantee that the Taliban would make that I would trust."
No question but that this is real issue - I'm aware of no one who advocates an end to this war who would want to live under a Taliban government. At the same time, it is difficult to take the professed feminism of American foreign policy makers at face value, given that none have ever suggested military invasion as the way to improve the appalling situation of women living in Saudi Arabia. On the contrary, as White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted on May 20, 2017, "In Saudi Arabia @POTUS has just completed largest single arms deal in US history, negotiating a package totaling more than $109.7 billion" - a transaction that does not appear to have particularly ruffled the feathers of Crocker or his colleagues in the foreign policy establishment, even as Saudi Arabia uses those arms to further the world's worst current humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
Surely America's schools of government and public service should be able to turn out diplomats capable of posing a foreign policy course that seeks methods of influencing other countries that involve neither bombing them or arming them. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Nonetheless, so far as the Dean from the school at Texas A&M goes, we may at least be grateful for the frankness with which he has exposed the brain death at the core of American foreign policy thinking.