Monday, July 08, 2013
A Decent Interval
The Taliban know it. Kabul knows it. So does Islamabad. What U.S. negotiators want from the Talibs is "a decent interval." We want to leave Afghanistan without losing face, without appearing to have been run out of Dodge with our tails between our legs. We're prepared to accept defeat so long as we can proclaim it Peace with Honour - just like Richard Nixon did. Here are Gwynne Dyer's thoughts:
In his briefing notes for a secret 1971 meeting in Beijing with Chinese government officials, Henry Kissinger, national security adviser to then–U.S. president Richard Nixon, wrote in the margin: “We are ready to withdraw all of our forces [from South Vietnam] by a fixed date and let objective realities shape the political future....We want a decent interval. You have our assurance.”
The phrase got out, and it stuck: the whole point of the exercise by 1971, from the U.S. point of view, was to get out of the Vietnamese war without admitting defeat. North Vietnam could collect its victory in the end, but it must allow a “decent interval” to pass so that Washington could distance itself from blame for the ultimate collapse of its local Vietnamese allies.
Direct American-Taliban peace talks are now on the menu for much the same reason. The Obama administration realizes that the intervention in Afghanistan has been a ghastly failure, but it needs some semblance of success, however transitory, to console the families of the 4,000 American dead in the war, and to save America’s face internationally.
..Maybe the Taliban will be patient enough to give the U.S. the “decent interval” it wants, believing that they can collect their victory a few years after the American troops have gone home. Or perhaps they will reject anything short of immediate and total victory, knowing that the American troops will leave anyway. However, the war in Afghanistan is actually a civil war, and they can never win a decisive victory.
The Afghan civil war began in 1992, when the puppet government that the Russians left behind when they pulled their troops out the country in 1989 collapsed. The various mujaheddin groups who had fought the Russians went to war with one another for control of the country, and that civil war has continued ever since.
Once the U.S. leaves, the balance of power between these two sides will be restored—and the civil war between them will continue on a more equal basis. This is not Vietnam, a homogeneous country with a strong national identity. It is a tribal country whose borders are entirely artificial. Decisive victory in Afghanistan is unattainable for any ethnic group.