“Peace With Honor” Ruse Awaiting Afghanistan?

May 19th, 2011
Published in Family Security Matters, May 18, 2011

Osama bin Laden’s death appears to be ringing in some false hopes.

Suggesting the terrorist mastermind’s death will impact on the future of the Afghanistan war, Kabul’s ambassador to the US, Ekill Hakimi, said it created “the hope for leadership of the Taliban to join the reconciliation and reintegration process.” US politicians also seem to be jumping onboard this bandwagon, claiming bin Laden’s death provides a unique opportunity for negotiations with the Taliban.

The bond between bin Laden and the Taliban was forged during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s when Osama provided them with assistance. Grateful for it, the Taliban refused to turn the al Qaeda leader over to the US in the days after 9/11. As the Taliban’s debt of gratitude extended to Osama personally and not al-Qaeda itself, it is rationalized once Osama was extinguished, so too was the debt. The logic therefore goes the Taliban will now be more open to what has been on again/off again negotiations.

If ever a lesson from the Vietnam conflict should be learned, now is the time.

During the final stages of the Vietnam war, peace talks were on again/off again. Frustrated in its efforts to withdraw from Southeast Asia, Washington initiated a furious Christmas bombing campaign of North Vietnam in 1972 that finally drove Hanoi back to the negotiating table. The Paris Peace Accords were signed the next month, ending direct US participation and winning Hanoi’s assurances it would not invade South Vietnam.

The logistical lifeline that fed North Vietnam’s war effort against the South was the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Throughout the war, this network of roads and bridges remained temporary in nature due to constant US bombing attacks. However, within weeks after the Peace Accords, Hanoi undertook actions making clear its intent to invade the South contrary to its promises:  it began replacing some of the temporary bridges and roads along the Trail with permanent ones. Having used the peace agreement to get US fighting forces out of the conflict and confident Washington would not re-engage the North should it violate its terms, Hanoi returned to its original objective. What North Vietnam could not achieve against the US on the battlefield, it sought to achieve by negotiating US forces out of the war.

It is important we recognize any similar peace agreement negotiated with the Taliban will involve a very similar mindset–but with one critical difference. In negotiating the Paris Peace Accords, the Vietnamese clearly recognized “good faith” was lacking on their side. For the Taliban, however, negotiations will involve “good faith”–but “good faith” as justified by the Quran. Muslims are encouraged, when necessary, to lie–in good faith–to non-Muslims and Muslims opposing them to further their ultimate objectives of imposing a strict interpretation of shariah law over them. Just as the Vietnamese used the accords to maneuver the US out of the war equation, so too will the Taliban.

To gain South Vietnam’s agreement to the Paris Peace Accords, the US promised to come to its aid should the North violate its terms. Hanoi invaded the South but Washington failed to honor this commitment. Any similar inducement to get the Kabul government to sign off on a peace agreement will be met with a similar US non-response when the Taliban violates the accord.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai requires three conditions for any Taliban peace agreement: they must disarm, renounce al-Qaeda and accept the Afghan Constitution. If accepted, they will do so under their interpretation of good faith–which spells bad faith for Karzai.

In another comparison to the Vietnam war, Time magazine recently described the May 8 Taliban attack launched against numerous government targets in its spiritual capital of Kandahar as another 1968 Tet offensive. While Tet proved to be a total failure for the Viet Cong, it marked the beginning of the end for US involvement as our media irresponsibly portrayed it as a US defeat. With its Tet analogy, Time attempts to portray the May 8 offensive as a defeat for the US, which it was not. In fact, every militant involved in the Kandahar attacks was either killed or captured. As one US military source put it, “it was not the greatest start to their vaunted spring offensive.”

Unsurprisingly, in the wake of a US victory, the American media irresponsibly reports doom and gloom in Afghanistan. Suggesting this will–as it did in Vietnam–only lead an American public, uninformed about US battlefield successes, to push Washington towards a negotiated peace that will only benefit the Taliban.

But, in the event of a negotiated peace for Afghanistan, the only way Vietnam’s fate can be avoided is by honoring a US commitment to come to Kabul’s aid once the Taliban violate the accord.

There is little doubt–as with Vietnam–any Afghani peace agreement sanctioned by the US and subsequently violated by the Taliban will generate a U.S. bark but no bite. Once again, we will settle for the ruse of “peace with honor” as an exit strategy for “peace with defeat.”

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