When the governors of Texas and Mississippi relaxed state mask mandates in March of this year, Joe Biden accused them of Neanderthal thinking, yet when it comes to the real Neanderthals, the “Tol-ee-bon” (as Biden infuriatingly pronounces it), he’s ready for a sit-down to discuss their demands. He even trusts them enough to share information about Americans living in Afghanistan.
Biden’s all-carrots-and-no-sticks approach to foreign policy has led to a calamitous blunder in our departure from Afghanistan. With all good options rejected, unacknowledged, or never even considered, the only remaining option is to retro-fit a solution. Unfortunately, this requires nimble thinking and foresight, and none of the people in charge seem up to the task. It also requires an understanding of the Taliban and a willingness to admit what has failed in our relations with them.
Beginning with what not to do, the number one rule should be “Don’t negotiate, plead, or try to reason with Taliban.” Every U.S. administration since the Taliban came into existence in 1994 has done so, and it has never worked. We might cut Bill Clinton some slack for trying to negotiate with the Taliban in its earliest phase of existence, but once they refused to meet with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (naturally, because she is a woman), Clinton should have stopped trying. None of the subsequent administrations’ efforts to reason with the Taliban has worked, and it is futile to continue. Biden showed that he hasn’t learned this fact when he sent CIA Director William Burns on a secret meeting with Mullah Baradar, the expected next leader of the Taliban.
The media may be swayed by the Taliban’s attempts to portray itself as a kinder, gentler bunch of jihadis, but the U.S. government can’t afford to be so gullible. Biden’s diplomats should also stop trying to finesse the Taliban into being something that they’re not, and they must understand that the Taliban will not honor agreements.
Barack Obama began the process of legitimizing and normalizing the Taliban. He traded five hardened jihadi commanders for the deserter Bowe Bergdahl. Negotiating with the Taliban leaders in Qatar, Obama’s diplomats insisted that they could not call themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, but that is precisely what they did. They even put Taliban flags and plaques on the office in Doha, declaring it the headquarters of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Their stunt stalled but did not stop the negotiations. The Emirate of Qatar and Team Obama tolerated these breaches and the negotiations continued. Give them an inch and they’ll take Kabul.
Some believe that negotiating with the Taliban is exclusively Joe Biden’s policy. Unfortunately the U.S. military leadership has shown great enthusiasm for this approach. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin not only speaks candidly about negotiating with the Taliban, but told reporters that he asked the State Department to work with Taliban commanders on “facilitation measures” to assist in evacuation of American passport holders.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley (who says he saw no evidence that the Ghani government would fall so quickly) didn’t even need Joe Biden to negotiate with the Taliban. In December 2020, he made a secret trip to Doha to sit down with them and ask them to allow the Ghani government to participate in talks. No luck.
Even the commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, has embraced the delusional outreach to our enemies, insisting that we share “a common purpose” and that “they’ve been useful to work with.” Perhaps it was he who put the Taliban in charge of our security in Kabul.
Rather than reversing course after the multiple suicide bombings on Thursday demonstrated that the Taliban is not trustworthy, Biden absurdly portrayed the Taliban as our ally against ISIS, quoting McKenzie who told him that it’s “in the interest of the Taliban that, in fact, ISIS-K does not metastasize beyond what it is.” Biden’s muddy logic tells him that “no one trusts them; we’re just counting on their self-interest” to help us. This cannot continue.
The second rule moving forward is to “Think like the Taliban.” The anthropological reality that men are faster and stronger than women still stands as the primary organizational factor of Afghan society writ large, and the Darwinian survival of the strongest man in the strongest tribe rules this patch of the world (ask the women). The Taliban fighters and Mullahs understand and respect brute strength and not much else. By appearing reasonable and willing to negotiate, the U.S. weakens itself in the eyes of the Taliban. As Osama bin Laden put it in the Al-Qaeda Manual (conceived and written in Afghanistan), “the confrontation that we are calling for with the apostate regimes does not know Socratic debates . . . Platonic ideals . . . nor Aristotelian diplomacy. But it knows the dialogue of bullets, the ideals of assassination, bombing and destruction, and the diplomacy of the cannon and machine gun.”
Rather than negotiating with the Taliban, we should be issuing demands. Even with their new American weapons, they are no match for the U.S. military. Also, they still have friends and al-Qaida allies left in Gitmo who should be leveraged in our demands. Unfortunately Biden appears ready to throw away this last arrow in his quiver.
We should also be hitting the Taliban where it hurts — in Qatar where we still have some influence (let’s hope someone is telling the commander-in-chief not to throw that option away). It’s imperative that no money goes to the Taliban, either from the United Nations, the IMF, or any of our allies or frenemies.
Finally, we should promote and support the only thing the Taliban fears — a charismatic Afghan warlord who can fight. After Rashid Dostum cut a deal and left Mazar-i-Sharif for Uzbekistan, the only man alive who fits that bill is Ahmad Massoud, son of the late, great Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance Commander murdered by Al-Qaeda on September 9, 2001, in what many believe was the signal for the 9/11 attacks to proceed. Massoud is begging France for support right now. The U.S. should be providing that support.
The Taliban is testing Biden, taunting him with propaganda designed to insult, like the jihadi enforcers dressed in American battle gear raising their flag and mocking the iconic photograph of U.S. Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi after winning the Battle of Iwo Jima.
With only one day left until the August 31 withdrawal deadline imposed on us by a handful of illiterate warlords, we’re about to find out how Joe Biden’s five-decade career in government has prepared him for what’s ahead. God help us.