The Taliban and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan: “Nice doggie…”

“Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ until you can find a rock.”
―-Will Rogers

News reports have spoken of F-16 fighters in the skies over the airport in Afghanistan, amid suggestions that the U.S. should take military actions, if necessary, to evacuate all Americans and partners out of Afghanistan.


1) Kyle Mizokami, “As a Warning, U.S. Fighter Jets Are Buzzing Kabul,” Yahoo News, August 19, 2021 (7:48 a.m.).

2) Peggy Noonan, “What Biden Can Still Save in Afghanistan; His careless withdrawal stranded thousands of U.S. citizens and an untold number of local allies, Wall Street Journal, August 19, 2021 (6:44 pm ET).

Noonan writes:

The only right political path now is the humane one. It’s also the path to at least some partial redemption. Mr. Biden should see that his job now is saving the lives of Americans in Afghanistan and their friends in a major and declared rescue operation. If that means embarrassing himself temporarily by reversing decisions, then so be it. Humility never killed anyone.

Find and save the Americans who can’t get out. The road to Kabul airport should be smashed open and kept open by whatever means—whatever it takes. If Bagram Air Base needs to be reopened under U.S. control, reopen it. Throw in everything you’ve got. (emphasis added). The administration, which is talking to the Taliban, should make it clear that this is what we are doing, that nothing will stop it, the rescue is going to happen. If it means blowing way past the Aug. 31 fixed departure day, blow past it.

But however things fall, the mood and needs of the Taliban cannot be allowed to determine events. We must do what we have to do. They must be made to understand this.

Yet however emotionally appealing Noonan’s prescriptions may be, to follow them would be to court disaster on an extraordinary scale. Any attempt to force open corridors by the use of military force would produce open armed conflict bwtween the Taliban and the U.S. forces sent to Afghanistan on an evacuation mission. American soldiers would be killed.

The Taliban occupy the entire city of Kabul, and the rest of the country. Who knows how many people would die if the U.S. tried to force the issue with military force.

Anyone entertaining such ideas should immediately watch the classic movie, Black Hawk Down (2001) which realistically depicts what happened in 1993 when American forces attempted to extract a relatively small number of soldiers from a firefight in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Why are F-16’s overflying Kabul?

One possible reason F-16’s could be overflying Kabul would be to protect the airport and its runways from air attack, or sustained rocket attacks, that could put the runways out of commission. Where would such an air attack come from? The Taliban do not have an air force.

If the F-16’s were used to take out Taliban launching sites for rockets aimed at the airport runways, the U.S. would immediately be in a hot war with the Taliban.

A second possible reason would be that the U.S. military wants to have military options available in case Americans or Afghan partners and their families come under attack from the Taliban.

If this is the thinking, who would have ordered the development of military options?

It is hard to see how F-16’s could be used in either of these situations without throwing U.S. forces into combat against the Taliban.

Despite the appeal of Noonan’s suggestions, Will Rodgers’ style of diplomacy is the best course for the U.S. to follow, given the fact that the Taliban is calling the shots and the fact that the U.S. has no viable military options for facilitating the extraction of U.S. citizens and Afghan partners from Afghanistan.

“Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ until you can find a rock,” Will Rodgers once said. The U.S. needs to use Rodgers’ diplomatic approach, and say “Nice doggie” to the Taliban until the evacuation is completed.

Needed Action Steps by the United States

U.S. leaders must immediately recognize that they have no viable military options in Kabul, or at Bagram air base.

Instead of planning for any potential military options, they should urgently undertake diplomatic measures to persuade the Taliban to follow trhrough on their statements that they would allow safe passage to Americans and their Afghan partners.

Americans should also bear in mind that one or more power struggles may take place among the Taliban, and that it is possible that one faction could undertake an extrme action in order to strengthen its position within the governing Taliban leadership. Such a power play appears to have been a factor in the takeover of the U.S. Embassy and the holding of hostages in Tehran in 1979.

Measures the U.S. should undertake immediately include the following:

Intense Diplomatic Efforts to Get Regional Powers to Pressure the Taliban to allow safe passage to the airport for Americans and their Afghan allies and friends. The State Department and the military should, each through their respective channels, exert maximum pressure on countries with influence or potential influence over the Taliban to urge the latter to allow safe passage.

Most important, perhaps, would be statements from Pakistani political and military leaders urging the Taliban to guarantee safe passage. Other coountries which might be enlisted in similar efforts include Russia, China, Turkey, and the neighboring republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Iran could also be engaged through indirect channels.

The United States, the United Kingdom, and France, should present a reolution to the United Nations Security Council calling for explicit Taliban guarantees of safe passage for Americans and other allies, and Afghans who have worked for them, and for active Taliban cooperation in ensuring that they leave safely, within whatever time period may ben required to achieve the result.

In the present circumcumstances, “nice doggie” diplomacy promises to be much more successful, and much less dangerous, than any military option.

The Trenchant Observer

The Trenchant Observer has been following Afghanistan closely since 2005, when he worked in Kabul as the Team Leader of group of six lawyers charged with advising the government on modernizing its criminal justice process to better meet international human rights standards.