Robert Blackwill’s Very Bad Idea

by Michael Rubin

Robert Blackwill, a deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration and a former U.S. ambassador to India, continues to argue for a Plan B in Afghanistan consisting of a de facto partition of the country. In effect, he would hand control over the Pashtun areas to the Taliban in exchange for peace. Blackwill’s idea, however, is ignorant, immoral, and dangerous.

It is ignorant because Blackwill ignores Afghan culture: Seldom do Afghans lose wars; they just switch to the winning side. Momentum means everything. If we show a lack of commitment, let alone weakness, Afghans, whether Pashtun or not, will jump ship to make accommodation with the other side. This is why President Obama’s timeline on Afghanistan was so counterproductive.

Blackwill’s plan is immoral.  He assumes that because all Taliban are Pashtun (let’s leave the Punjabis out of this for now), all Pashtun must somehow favor the Taliban. Few Pashtun want to live under the Taliban’s brutal rule. How short must be Blackwill’s memory of the Taliban dynamiting cultural artifacts, imprisoning women in their homes, and murdering Tajiks and Hazaras en masse. Perhaps Blackwill thinks the imprisonment of half of Afghanistan is not a U.S. interest, but having the world recognize you do not stand by allies or principles always undercuts U.S. interests.

The dangers of Blackwill’s Plan B are many. The idea that the Taliban would be satiated with just the Pashtun areas is wrong-headed. There’s a lesson in history: If the Taliban were to be satiated with Kandahar only, then why, in 1995, did they seize Herat? Why, in 1996, did they seize Kabul and, why, in 1997 and 1998, did they take Mazar-e-Sharif? It is also dangerous to believe that we can negotiate with the Taliban. The Clinton administration tried that, and we know how well that worked. Nor should we ever accede to Afghanistan’s becoming a safe-haven for the Taliban, given the Taliban’s ongoing alliance with any number of al-Qaeda offshoots.

For Afghan history buffs, there’s a lesson in Mullah Omar’s rhetoric. He refers to himself as Dost Muhammad, the victor in the first Anglo-Afghan War, and President Hamid Karzai as Shah Shuja, the weak king whom the British sought to support. What does that make us? Equal to the British, whose retreat from Kabul became the worst military defeat in British history, at least until the loss of Singapore a century later. In Somalia — where Bush and Obama have stood aside as al-Qaeda established new terrorist training camps — its local affiliate looks at Afghanistan and, paraphrasing their leaflets and radio reports, says, “We [Islamists] defeated a superpower in the USSR, and we defeated a superpower in the USA. God favors us. We are the wave of the future.” What a great recruiting tool the world over. If there is a roadmap to reliving 9/11, Robert Blackwill has it. But bad ideas, no matter how prominent their voice, are still bad ideas.