Who is the Devil? An adversary who has hurt you in the past, you don't trust, who may harm you in the future, or who you may even feel is evil. What is evil? Someone who, without adequate justification, intentionally inflicts grievous harm. - Bob Mnookin
Many would agree that that Taliban is evil.
Most would agree that the United States’ pullout from Afghanistan was a chaotic disaster.
Most would agree that the US should pull out of “the forever Afghanistan (20 year war).”
It is curious that the pullout date is based on the negotiated agreement of March 2020 by the former President Donald Trump administration, especially former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Was this really a negotiated agreement? Can one negotiate with a terrorist group, the Taliban?
The 2019 Negotiated Agreement with the Taliban.
Former President Donald Trump called the Taliban “great negotiators, tough fighters” in Cullman, Alabama in 2021:
Former President Donald Trump on Saturday evening recognized the Taliban's skills in negotiating and fighting… during a rally in Alabama.
On the surface, this seems to be valuable praise from a person who prides himself on excellent negotiation skills. He even claims that he wrote a book on negotiation; albeit, the co-author Tony Schwartz now asserts that Trump had very little to do with writing the book. A New Yorker article recently focused on this absurdity:
But, as he (Schwartz) watched a replay of the new candidate holding forth for forty-five minutes, he noticed something strange: over the decades, Trump appeared to have convinced himself that he had written the book. Schwartz recalls thinking, “If he could lie about that on Day One (of his campaign)—when it was so easily refuted—he is likely to lie about anything.”
Schwartz stated in this article that at first he thought Trump’s negotiation approach was replete with “innocent forms of exaggerations or truthful hyperboles.” Now, Schwartz realizes that Trump’s negotiation approach is full of media tricks, lying, and loose relationships with the truth.
So, Trump’s praise for the Taliban’s “great negotiation” skills may be that he discovered the Taliban has this same approach: tricks, lies, and not so much truth.
The Withdrawal Agreement with the U.S. in Doha
“The negotiations Pompeo helped conduct as secretary of State resulted in a four-part withdrawal deal with the Taliban that committed the U.S. to a phased, conditions-based removal of all troops in a 14-month period. The U.S. called on the Taliban to cut ties with the terrorist organization al-Qaeda and refrain from any threats to the U.S. or allies, but it also made concessions, like the release of 5,000 combat and political Taliban prisoners and a review of sanctions against the organization. The Afghan government was not involved in the negotiations, a move that critics say undermined the country’s leadership and legitimacy.
"‘Our secretary of State signed a surrender agreement with the Taliban,' Trump national security adviser H.R. McMaster said of Pompeo on a podcast with Bari Weiss. 'This collapse goes back to the capitulation agreement of 2020. The Taliban didn't defeat us. We defeated ourselves."
“Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America February 29, 2020 which corresponds to Rajab 5, 1441 on the Hijri Lunar calendar and Hoot 10, 1398 on the Hijri Solar calendar.
A comprehensive peace agreement is made of four parts:
1. Guarantees and enforcement mechanisms that will prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies.
2. Guarantees, enforcement mechanisms, and announcement of a timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan.
3. After the announcement of guarantees for a complete withdrawal of foreign forces and timeline in the presence of international witnesses, and guarantees
4. A permanent and comprehensive ceasefire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations….
The four parts above are interrelated and each will be implemented in accordance with its own agreed timeline and agreed terms. Agreement on the first two parts paves the way for the last two parts."
Trump Officials Change Their Mind on the Negotiated Agreement
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley initially praised the reaching out to the Taliban in 2019 but more recently.
"Negotiating with the Taliban is like dealing with the devil."
She declared that there are times that one needs to negotiate with the Devil but one should negotiate from a position of strength not weakness.
Former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller stated recently that the Agreement was “a play” to hide Trump’s real intentions of leaving a small amount of troops in Afghanistan. This recent statement seems contradictory to Trump’s repeated statements that the US should get out of Afghanistan.
“Lisa Curtis, a former senior National Security Council official who sat alongside Afghanistan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad during the negotiations with the Taliban, told AP: “The Doha agreement was a very weak agreement, and the U.S. should have gained more concessions from the Taliban."
“Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper…said he believed at the time the agreement was signed that it should have been "conditions-based," which is in part why he later objected to Trump's call for a Christmas homecoming for U.S. troops.
Esper told CNN…Trump "undermined" the agreement and weakened U.S. leverage in negotiations by impatiently calling for troop reductions in the country.”
“The other side: Pompeo, the only U.S. secretary of state to meet with Taliban officials in person while at the signing ceremony of the agreement in Doha in September 2020, told Fox News he does not believe the negotiations legitimized the Taliban and that the Trump administration never trusted the group to begin with…Pompeo also insisted the agreement was conditions-based….”
HBO Real Time with Bill Maher, 8/27/21, The Taliban Deal
This episode featured a discussion among Bill Maher (American comedian and political commentator), Katty Kay (Katherine, British Journalist, BBC) and Ralph Reed (American political consultant).
Maher claims that there was no deal. One cannot negotiate with a group like the Taliban which is legally classified as a terrorist organization, that murders comedians, allows no freedom to women, regularly beheads opposition and conducts stoning of gays and other “unwanteds.”
One wonders if this is true in both the long and short term. During the US pullout, did not the Taliban and US have a common interest: getting the U.S. out of Afghanistan? What about hostage negotiations? What about negotiating with terrorists on planes and other venues?
Reed claims that the negotiated agreement contained a number of consecutive provisions.
For example, the Taliban had to sever ties with ISIS, had to stop violence against innocent victims. Reed claims these conditions were not fulfilled so President Joe Biden did not have to adhere to the 2020 agreement.
Kay asserted that the agreement and the conditions were tricks and unrealistic. The Taliban knew that they would never adhere to the agreement conditions and so did Secretary of State Pompeo.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s Nonsense Deal
"The United States will support, facilitate and participate in these discussions," Pompeo later told journalists, stressing that any talks would be "Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. The region and the world are all tired of what are taking place here in the same way that the Afghan people are no longer interested in seeing war."
Pompeo also added, perhaps optimistically given Afghanistan’s long history of resisting foreign forces, that the Taliban were "beginning to see that they cannot wait us out."
In another visit, Pompeo threatened to withhold $1 billion to Afghanistan stating:
We note that Afghan leaders are acting inconsistently with their commitments under the Joint Declaration, chiefly failing to establish an inclusive national team to participate in intra-Afghan negotiations or take practical steps to facilitate prisoner releases by both sides as a confidence-building measure to reach a political settlement and achieve a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.
Michael Rubin, senior fellow, resident scholar, AEI, finds this embrace of the Taliban odd for Pompeo. Rubin notes the that main interlocutor, Zalmay Khalilzad, is viewed by Pompeo as a diplomat, but many view him as dishonest, a businessperson who has tried to profit from the Taliban and is most unpopular:
More broadly, the plan for which Pompeo and Khalilzad appear to sacrifice everything the U.S. has so far achieved in Afghanistan is a disaster. It requires little of the Taliban, fails to address the Taliban’s intertwinement with al Qaeda and does not address Pakistan’s support for the group….
Pompeo and crew ignored intelligence showing the Taliban had no intention of honoring even its paltry agreements…he (Khalilzad) committed the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners before intra-Afghan talks would even begin.
Somewhere along the line, Khalilzad evidently forgot to ask the Afghan government what it thought about releasing a brigade of hardened terrorists who murdered men, women, and children to impose their medieval vision on society.
Pompeo omits, on March 20, the Taliban attacked an Afghan army and police post, slaughtering 24 Afghan soldiers and police. They reportedly burned one prisoner alive.
Perhaps Pompeo was willing to agree to what, on its face, is a horrible deal because he understood that President Trump wanted out of Afghanistan and saw no reason to pay $30 billion annually to maintain the U.S. presence there. That’s fair enough. But in such a case, it is better to withdraw without throwing Afghans under the bus or embracing and empowering the Taliban.
Simply put, Pompeo’s pro-Taliban strategy makes no strategic, military, or moral sense. It will remain a lodestone around his legacy and diminishes U.S. security.
So, one might conclude that an expert negotiator might indeed in the short term or maybe the long term negotiate with a terrorist organization especially when the organization is entering a dynamic change in their operations.
In this case it seems as if both the interlocutor Khalilzad and the Taliban shared a trickery-full, dishonest approach to these talks which more likely than not cannot be termed negotiation.
Praise for the “Great Taliban Negotiators” rings hollow coming from a trickster sort of negotiator as is the reputation of former President Trump.
Excellent DC based Negotiator Winston Haythe, Esq. gives this excellent summary:
I’m not certain at all that the so-called agreement between former Republican President Donald Trump with the Taliban held any influence or sway with present Democratic President Joe Biden to withdraw from Afghanistan. The document generated at Camp David by Trump was certainly not a Treaty of the United States as negotiated with a diplomatically recognized foreign power and as ratified by the United States Senate.
My personal impression is that President Biden, sensing a mood within the country to withdraw after 20 years by the US in a country where the Russians had failed, thought he had a golden opportunity to score a huge political moment of celebration domestically by being totally out of Afghanistan on or before the 20th anniversary on September 11, 2021 of the destruction of the two towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.
Thus, President Biden was not receptive to any military or diplomatic opinion that was in any way contrary to or could be logically construed as contrary to his own. As a Washington policymaker for 47 years in the United States Senate and then as Vice President for eight years of service with President Barack Obama, he and perhaps only he knew best.
Of course, history is replete with leaders whose decisions did not end as they intended. A funny thing happened to Julius Caesar on his way to the Forum on the Ides of March or March 15 in the year 44 BC. Napoleon Bonaparte suffered an ignominious defeat at the Waterloo on June 18, 1815.
Texans led by General Sam Houston defeated the Mexican Army commanded by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at the Battle of Jacinto on April 21, 1836 in a mere 18 minutes!
While the accounts to be written by future historians worldwide about the pullout of American troops from Afghanistan cannot be known today, my prediction is that President Joseph Biden will not be remembered and described in complimentary and laudatory fashion.
See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.
Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education
The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray
5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.
Getting Your Way Every Day.
Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate and When to Fight, book by Professor Bob Mnookin, Harvard Program on Negotiation