Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted

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The first draft of this column came not to bury but to praise Donald Trump. I planned to applaud the president’s peace initiative with the Taliban, his strategy of ignoring the corrupt and discredited puppet regime Bush installed in Kabul and his desire to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. This was a move I have been almost alone in promoting since the U.S. idiotically invaded the country in 2001 and I congratulate Trump for having the courage to unwind Bush and Obama’s mistakes. The Afghan people should be allowed to shape their future free of imperialist interference.

But then, hours before representatives of the Taliban which controls about half of Afghanistan were set to board a plane to Washington where they were scheduled to meet with Trump at Camp David, the president canceled their visit and scuttled years of progress toward ending America’s longest war, which has killed more than 2,300 U.S. servicemen and at least 30,000 Afghans. “He claimed that it was because the Taliban had been behind a recent attack that killed an American soldier,” reported Politico.

There is, of course, no requirement that combatants observe a ceasefire during peace negotiations. Richard Nixon’s “Christmas bombing” campaign in 1972, which killed 1,600 Vietnamese civilians, was a U.S. attempt to soften up North Vietnam at the upcoming Paris peace talks. The United States has killed numerous Taliban soldiers throughout 2019.

“This [decision to scuttle peace talks] will lead to more losses to the U.S.,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman. “Its credibility will be affected, its anti-peace stance will be exposed to the world, losses to lives and assets will increase.” He is right.

Few Americans pay attention to Afghanistan. Fewer still are aware of America’s history of proving itself an untrustworthy diplomatic partner in that war-torn country—a tradition that Trump’s fickleness continues. “The Taliban have never trusted American promises; [Trump’s] volte-face will only deepen that mistrust,” observes The Economist.

In the late 1990s Afghanistan was the world’s leading producer of opium. The U.S. and its European allies were seeking to mitigate a heroin epidemic and the Clinton Administration was negotiating terms for a pipeline to carry oil and natural gas from Central Asia via Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. So, even though the U.S. had imposed sanctions on the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and denied them diplomatic recognition, Clinton paid the Taliban $114 million in 2000 to encourage them to ban the farming of opium poppies. Bush followed up with $43 million in 2001.

For the most part the Taliban held up their side of the bargain. Their ban on poppy cultivation reduced production of exported heroin by about 65%. Considering Afghanistan’s primitive infrastructure, poor communications and fractious political culture during an ongoing civil war, that was as much as the U.S. could have hoped for.

But tensions grew between the Taliban and the U.S. over the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project. The U.S. tried to lowball the Taliban with below-market transit fees, the Taliban refused and American negotiators became angry. “Accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs,” a U.S. negotiator snapped at her Taliban counterparts at a meeting in Islamabad. It was August 2001, three months after Secretary of State Colin Powell paid the Taliban $43 million and weeks before 9/11.

It’s impossible to know for certain why the U.S. chose to invade Afghanistan, which had nothing to do with the attacks. The hijackers were recruited from and funded by Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan, where the terrorists were trained. Central Asia watchers speculated that the U.S. was more interested in controlling the then-only pipeline carrying the world’s largest untapped energy reserves than catching bin Laden.

We do know what the Taliban took away from the experience. They cut a deal, did their part and got bombed, invaded and occupied in return.

Both sides say they are open to resuming talks. If and when they do, the Taliban—who, after all, didn’t invade anyone and are defending their territory from foreign aggression—hold the moral high ground over the United States.

Heckuva job, Donnie.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


9 thoughts on “Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted

  1. > The Afghan people should be allowed to shape their future free of imperialist interference.

    Bingo. They could do better than the Taliban, but they have to go through their own Renaissance first. Europe (mostly) shook off the bloodthirsty church of the time. Let the Afghans choose their own path, they’ll eventually find a peaceful middle.

    Consider Iran – they had a democratic government in the 50’s, we knocked it over & they wound up becoming a theocracy. Religion provides hope even when reality doesn’t. Let ’em find hope first, and rational thought will eventually follow.

  2. So we cut opium by 2/3rds. That was right about when the opioid epidemic got going, wasn’t it?

  3. Another great column, Mr Rall.

    Even Peter Lavelle said 9/11 was a crime, so the US had to go into Afghanistan to punish the criminals, but then they should have left, but didn’t.

    Only no one in Afghanistan had anything to do with 9/11, but most Americans believe the three presidents who said Mullah Omar sent the hijackers on orders from Iran.

    • Wasn’t bin Laden reported to have commanded
      the 9/11 attacks from a cave in Afghanistan … or so THAT excuse went?

      • As Mr Rall pointed out, Osama was in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. But yes, that was the first lie. The final version is that 9/11 was funded and organised by Iran, and perpetrated by their cc-religionists in Afghanistan, Iraq, the DPRK, Syria, Libya, and Cuba. US courts found Iran 100% guilty of 9/11, and also found that not one Saudi was involved (based on Mueller’s investigation of the 9/11 attacks).

      • And if not for the sad fact that Seal Team Six misinterpreted the “dead or alive” order, UBL could have stood trial and totally corroborated the Official Conspiracy Theory.



  4. Happy Freedom Day! (or: How soon we forget)

    Usta be that 9/11 captured the news cycle for 23 hours. Are we so ashamed of what came after that we’ve collectively turned away?

  5. Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted

    I doubt, Ted, that yet another demonstration of that well-known fact -came as a surprise to the «Taliban», whose name, I understand, means «Students». Even the most casual student of US history must be aware of all those treaties to which that state (and, interestingly enough, its brief contender for a large portion of the territory it ruled) committed itself, for «as long as the grass shall grow and the waters run», which it then proceeded to violate at its earliest convenience. If there is, indeed, something novel about Mr Trump, it is that he also seems committed to seeing to it that the grass won’t grow and the waters won’t run, but for some reason I doubt that this represents an attempt on his part to justify the US violation of those many treaties….