Counting on the Goodwill of the Taliban

If we needed any proof that politics really does make strange bedfellows simply take note of the fact that a democratic republic like the United States of America is dealing with the Taliban, a medieval band of terrorists.

What choice do we have? Leaving Afghanistan and ending “America’s longest war” is one thing. Reasonable people may differ on whether it was the right thing to do. But Joe Biden’s chaotic departure makes us look weak around the world. Leaving Americans and our Afghan allies behind makes us look unreliable. No matter how many times Mr. Biden tries to paint the withdrawal as a well-planned success, everybody knows what it was – a humiliating fiasco.

We went to war 20 years ago in Afghanistan to rid the country of the Taliban and now, 20 years later, we’re counting on them to not only let our people out – which they’ve already begun doing, a tentative but welcome sign – but also to make sure that the future in Afghanistan doesn’t resemble the past.

Maybe there’s a new Taliban out there, a Taliban 2.0, one that doesn’t long for the good old days of the seventh century. We’ll know in time. But let’s not be too optimistic. This, after all, is the same mob that enabled al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden 20 years ago; that let them train and plan their attack on the United States. So we don’t really know – not right now, anyway – what Taliban we’re partnering with.

The Biden administration has been trying to persuade the Taliban to clean up its act, but old dogs don’t readily adapt to new tricks. A few days ago, they named a new government that makes you wonder if the new Taliban is the same as the old Taliban.

Let’s start with the man they picked as interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani. “This is, literally, putting a jihadist terrorist in charge of internal security. Mr. Haqqani is on the FBI’s most wanted list, and the U.S. is offering up to $10 million for information leading to his arrest,” as an editorial in the Wall Street Journal explains it.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Haqqani Network, which his father who was pals with bin Laden founded and that his son now runs. According to the U.S. counterterrorism center, “The Haqqanis are considered the most lethal and sophisticated insurgent group targeting US, Coalition, and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. They typically conduct coordinated small-arms assaults coupled with rocket attacks, IEDs, suicide attacks, and attacks using bomb-laden vehicles.”

Haqqani will have like-minded allies in the new Afghan government. The Taliban supreme leader in Kabul will be Haibatullah Akhundzada, an Islamic fundamentalist who wants to govern the country under strict Shariah law. The new prime minister is someone named Mullah Hassan Akhund, who was foreign minister in the pre-9/11 Islamic Emirate in Kabul.

These are the men who are supposed to prevent jihadists from once again using Afghanistan as a sanctuary for another terrorist attack on the United States. Do you feel comfortable with that? I don’t.

As the Journal editorial puts it: “In the aftermath of 9/11, George W. Bush declared that the U.S. would no longer distinguish between terrorists and the governments that harbor them. Now, after Mr. Biden’s calamitous withdrawal, the U.S. is in the incredible position of hoping to make a government run by terrorists our partners.”

Like all of you, I watched in real time the horrors of September 11, 2001. But I have never watched a memorial service in the 20 years since. That day 20 years ago is etched in our memories. I don’t need a return to hell every year on the anniversary of the attack to insure that I won’t forget what happened. I won’t forget. None of us will.

President Biden is hoping things will turn out well. That we get all Americans and our Afghan friends out, that there will be no hunting down of those who helped us, no revenge killings, that women and girls will be treated with respect … and that by the midterm elections next year the American people will forget all about the way we left.

That’s a lot to hope for.