The American Interest

Out of Afghanistan

President Donald Trump on September 7 abruptly cancelled secret meetings with unnamed Taliban representatives and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Citing a deadly bombing in Kabul a few days earlier, Trump also said he was cancelling the talks with the Taliban that started a year ago in Qatar.

Those talks focused on four key issues: a Taliban guarantee that it will not allow foreign jihadists to use Afghanistan as a launchpad for attacks outside the country; the complete withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces; an intra-Afghan dialogue; and a permanent cease-fire. However, Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, had never been able to arrange even a temporary truce, let alone a permanent cease-fire. The Taliban actually escalated attacks in the weeks prior to Trump’s announcement.

Trump was right to call off the contentious summit, though he probably would have enjoyed the theatrics of a Camp David ceremony reminiscent of Jimmy Carter’s 1978 diplomatic triumph with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. A deal with the Taliban—any deal—would have been violated anyway, so it is just as well that none was signed.

The Taliban see themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan—a divinely ordained polity—and they refuse to talk directly to the U.S.-supported government in Kabul, which they regard as inherently illegitimate. Militarily, they are now stronger than at any time since...

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