The Trump-Taliban scandal

CBS News recently claimed that Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid endorsed American President Donald Trump’s re-election during a phone interview with the outlet, which was political support that the Trump campaign strongly rejected, though Mujahid later accused them of interpreting and publishing his remarks incorrectly. It’s unclear where the truth lies in this scandal, but the Afghan group’s disputed endorsement of Trump still raises some good questions for everyone to consider.

The most immediate one is whether CBS News was spreading fake news, whether deliberately or mistakenly. Trump regularly accuses America’s mainstream media outlets, especially those with a perceived bias towards the Democrats, of publishing manipulated or even outright fabricated stories. This might be one such instance where they twisted their interviewee’s words in order to advance their political agenda. Their goal might have been to discredit Trump by reporting that an internationally recognised terrorist group endorsed him.

The other possibility is that they did their job properly by accurately reporting Mujahid’s comments, but that the latter might have decided to claim that his words were interpreted and published incorrectly for damage control purposes after they provoked a scandal that he didn’t expect. He might have been speaking sincerely, perhaps even off the record (whether in general or only in the context in which he might have said what he reportedly did), but didn’t intend for his words to be manipulated by the Democrats to discredit Trump.

If Mujahid really did say what CBS News cited him as saying, namely that the Taliban hopes that Trump’s possible re-election would result in him carrying out his promised military withdrawal from the country and that he’d remain committed to his America First strategy of the US no longer being “cops for the world”, then it’s actually not as controversial as some are portraying it. In fact, it would be expected for the group to hold such views since they serve its immediate interests. There are also many Americans who feel the same way.

Whatever the case may be, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the Taliban does indeed hope that Trump is re-elected. After all, the two sides have made more progress on reaching a political solution to America’s longest-running war during his first term in office than at any time since the conflict first started in late 2001. A lot of time and effort was invested by both sides in this process, and they each staked part of their reputations on seeing it succeed to some extent. A Biden presidency might reverse this progress and make it all for naught.

Nevertheless, because the Taliban is internationally recognised as a terrorist group despite many governments entering into talks with it over the past few years for pragmatic reasons in pursuit of peace, some of Trump’s opponents want to imply that anyone who shares their views in this respect also endorses the group. That’s a very unethical angle of attack against one’s opponents because no opinion is automatically discredited just because someone unsavory shares it too. Two people can hold the same views without endorsing each other.

There’s nothing wrong with hoping that Trump keeps his word by withdrawing most American forces from Afghanistan in the event of his re-election. Many Americans are tired of their country’s so-called “endless wars”, of which the Afghan one is the epitome, and a lot of them want the troops brought back home as soon as possible on principle alone. Others are more pragmatic and recognise that while they might have supported the war’s original aims, the policy of “nation-building” has failed, as has the US’ attempt to destroy the Taliban.

As the US’ uncoordinated and largely criticised response to the Covid-19 pandemic continues to inflict immense economic hardship upon its people, it’s almost rage-inducing among many that some voices are trying to discredit the cause of peace in Afghanistan despite this standing to save the country billions of dollars a year. That money would arguably be much better invested inside the country to help struggling Americans instead of wasted on the military-industrial complex’s failed two-decade-long campaign in Afghanistan.