No Escape from Empire’s Graveyard

NEW DELHI – With the stage set for secret talks in Qatar between the United States and the Taliban, US President Barack Obama’s strategy for a phased exit from war-ravaged Afghanistan is now being couched in nice-sounding terms that hide more than they reveal. In seeking a Faustian bargain with the Taliban, Obama risks repeating US policy mistakes that now haunt regional and international security.

Since coming to office, Obamahas pursued an Afghan strategy that can be summed up in three words: surge, bribe, and run. The military mission has now entered the “run” part, or what euphemistically is being called the “transition to 2014.”

The central objective is to cut a deal with the Taliban so that the US and its NATO partners exit the “graveyard of empires” without losing face. This approach – aimed more at withdrawing forces as soon as possible than at ensuring enduring peace and regional stability – is being dressed up as “reconciliation,” with Qatar, Germany, and the United Kingdom getting lead roles in facilitating a settlement.

Yet what stands out is how little the US has learned from the past. In critical respects, it is beginning to repeat its own mistakes, whether by creating or funding new local militias in Afghanistan, or by striving to come to terms with the Taliban. As with the covert war that the US waged in the 1980’s in Afghanistan against Soviet military intervention, so, too, have short-term interests driven US policy in the current overt war.