On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US is willing and ready to facilitate direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. This was in response to a ceasefire declared by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on occasion of the Muslim holiday of Eid, conditional on Taliban participation.
During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump railed against the imperialistic warmongering and nation-building of the American political elite, which has brought only endless, destructive wars and regional destabilization. Trump referred to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as “the single worst decision ever made.” However, after his election he appeared to change course on Afghanistan, reversing his position and approving a reinvigoration of US military efforts.
The war in Afghanistan has so far cost the US around 2,200 American lives and $1 trillion. Many officials, analysts, and observers are beginning to realize that there is no end in sight, and no imaginable strategy, or even a concrete understanding of what US goals should be.
However, Pompeo’s recent words may be a sign that Trump’s initial seeming reversal may not be the end of his strategy. The president sparked similar fears among his base when he undertook some military actions in Syria early on in his first year, and brought people such as Nikki Haley and John Bolton into his administration. However, in hindsight, Trump has delivered exactly what he promised on Syria – de-escalation of US involvement, leading to an end in sight to the bloody civil war, and acknowledgment of Russia’s healthy role in resolving the conflict.
While the issue of North Korea is still ongoing, Trump has already achieved historic gains and peace talks, after terrifying domestic critics with “saber-rattling” which ultimately did not start a war, but rather brought Kim to the table. All of these are evidence that the president’s foreign policy vision is considerably more robust, consistent, and strategic than his detractors hysterically claim.
Unfortunately, the Taliban rejected the ceasefire offer on Monday, simultaneously kidnapping around 200 people. Taliban commanders believe previous ceasefires served mainly to strengthen US forces, which they ultimately want to completely expel. It seems likely that in this case Trump will continue to rely on the US military while he addresses other issues or achieves a breakthrough as he has done in other cases.