Taliban fighters forced their way into the presidential palace and a CIA compound in Kabul on Tuesday and triggered a firefight that left four of the invaders and three security guards dead.
The Taliban had delivered a major statement: we can hit even the most secure sectors or sanctums of Kabul. The message reverberated loudly at home in President Karzai’s residence and office and as far away as Washington.
Why? Twelve years ago, President George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda guests. As President Bush put it, Washington would make no distinction between America’s attackers and their hosts.
When it appeared the war was not wiping out the two, he sent in more troops in what was called the surge. The Taliban outlived him. He did not get global terror boss Osama bin Laden.
Exit Bush and enter Barack Obama. Candidate Obama campaigned against the war in Iraq, calling it a war of choice. Understanding the reasons for the invasion of Afghanistan as stemming from the atrocities of 9/11, he called it a war of necessity. President Obama inherited the two wars and vowed to end them. Like Bush before him, he poured more troops into Afghanistan aiming to “derail, dismantle and defeat” Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
To Obama’s credit, the SEALs killed bin Laden towards the end of his first term. He did withdraw American troops from Iraq and left the Iraqis to kill themselves in car bombs in what President Bush called their newfound democracy.
But the Taliban are not going anywhere. Their Mujahidin brothers before them outlived the Soviets. The Taliban appear determined to outlive President Obama just as they outlived his predecessor.
Put another way, the Soviets lost their war in Afghanistan and the Americans are not winning their war against the Taliban. After 10 years, Moscow turned tail and has lived to rue what was an ill-advised military adventure. After 12 years, Washington is looking for a face-saving exit from a war it thought it would win hands down. Washington is desperate to talk to the Taliban.
The Taliban is not desperate to talk to Washington. This was amply demonstrated when the Taliban recently opened its office in Doha in Qatar. Touted by the rest of the world as an office, it was, to the Taliban, a diplomatic mission. It represented the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and flew a Taliban flag. Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is the name the Taliban gave Afghanistan under their rule.
The Taliban was saying to Washington and especially Kabul that it is more than an Islamic fundamentalist political movement; it is a government. Why else was Washington ready to negotiate with it? The mullahs were also saying that they consider themselves more of the representatives of the Afghan people than President Karzai and his government.
And, quite ominously, they were suggesting that it may not really matter which way the peace talks go, they will have to sort out the government in Kabul when the Americans leave. If this happens, the chaos in Afghanistan may overshadow what is happening in Iraq.
As if this is not troubling enough for a man who came into office campaigning against wars and war-making, President Obama appears to be suggesting that he may get involved in the war in Syria.
War-mongering Arizona Senator John McCain says since Damascus has used chemical weapons against its own people, it has crossed President Obama’s red line and Washington must act.
Senator McCain favours imposition of a no fly zone and arming of the opposition of President Bashar al-Assad. The former, of course, is a declaration of war and to arm the rebels is to take sides in the on-going war in which the momentum seems to have swung the way of Damascus.
And, does President Obama want to side with assorted anti-Assad fighters among whom are al-Qaeda militias?
President Bush will forever be identified with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which war was waged on the false prospectus of ridding Baghdad of weapons of mass destruction. President Obama will forever be remembered for the drone killings of innocent Afghan and Pakistani civilians in the vain adventure to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
A demonstrator protesting President Obama’s visit to Berlin carried a banner that compared him to Martin Luther King. It read: King: I have a Dream. Obama: I have a Drone. What, I ask, is the difference between Presidents Bush and Obama? Obama the candidate’s doctrine was engagement where President Bush’s was pre-emption.
Kwendo Opanga is a media consultant [email protected]