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Former U.S. Ambassador Says Withdraw From Afghanistan Is Surrender


The U.S. is trying to negotiate a peace deal to leave Afghanistan. And some Americans who know the country best say the deal on the table now is effectively a surrender. That's what Ryan Crocker argues in The Washington Post this week. He was U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and has spent decades as a diplomat in the Middle East and Asia. Welcome.

RYAN CROCKER: Thanks for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Do you think it's a mistake for the U.S. to negotiate with the Taliban at all, or do you just think this particular negotiation is misguided?

CROCKER: So here's the thing. The Taliban for years has laid out its position that they are ready to talk to us anytime. They will not talk with the government of Afghanistan because they consider it illegitimate. We caved on that. We are now talking directly to the Taliban. The Afghan government is not in the room. If that's the course we continue on, it will totally delegitimize the Afghan government. And I think there is no outcome I could see from doing that that wouldn't effectively be a surrender, and we're just negotiating the terms.

SHAPIRO: One of the arguments you make is that the U.S. won't be able to enforce any peace deal once American troops pull out. By that measure, would the U.S. have to stay in Afghanistan forever?

CROCKER: It's important to look at this in perspective. When I was out there - 2011, 2012, - we had well over 100,000 troopers. We're down now to a little over 14,000. The cost is much less. There still is a cost, but I think it is something we very much can bear. So it's a question of, are we going to see this through, both for our own national security - because Afghanistan, let's not forget, it's where 9/11 came from. Are we going to stand by our values? Because we've put a huge effort into the future of Afghan women and girls making - letting them take their place in society again. Well, that's not part of the Taliban agenda to say the very least.

SHAPIRO: In your description, I'm not hearing anything that sounds like, well, once this condition is met or once this box is checked, then it will be safe and prudent for the U.S. to remove its troops. It sounds like you're saying as long as there's a need, American forces should stay there.

CROCKER: That is exactly what I'm trying to say, Ari - that if there is a need, we need to be there. President Trump said this himself the summer of '17. It's not about calendars. It's about conditions. If that means a presence that may rise or fall in terms of troops on the ground, it is a price, I think, we can pay.

SHAPIRO: In your Washington Post piece, you say these negotiations bear an unfortunate resemblance to the Paris peace talks during the Vietnam War. And you write then, as now, it was clear that by going to the table, we were surrendering; we were just negotiating the terms of our surrender. And I think that some Americans would draw another parallel with Vietnam, which is this war has cost America too many lives and too much money. And those people would argue that it's time for the war to end whether or not the U.S. declares victory. How do you respond to that argument?

CROCKER: Well, here's a hard truth. You don't end a war by pulling your troops off the battlefield. The Obama administration tried that in Iraq, and the war grinds on to the benefit of Iran. Iran is - has done very nicely out of that. Look at Afghanistan. We will simply be handing over to a force that has more patience than we do, and that would be the Taliban. And we've seen that movie before.

SHAPIRO: You've talked about the consequences of leaving Iraq too early, leaving Vietnam too early, leaving Afghanistan too early. Some people will hear this as an argument for endless war.

CROCKER: So here's the thing I've observed over many, many years in the Middle East. We as Americans lack patience. We want to get 'er done. That's how we built our own great country. The rest of the world works on a different clock. What our adversaries have seen over time is that, boy, if you create problems, eventually the Americans will leave; they'll get tired of it; they'll want to move on to something else. So that's what our adversaries count on. That's what our allies fear. We need to be sending the signal right now that we will be where we need to be to protect our interests, to protect our values for as long as it takes.

SHAPIRO: Ambassador Crocker, thanks for speaking with us today.

CROCKER: Thanks very much for having me.

SHAPIRO: Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker. He's now a diplomat-in-residence at Princeton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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