Starving Millions for 'Leverage' Is Evil

The fact that there is even an argument over what should be done is a disgrace.

Sarah Chayes has written what may be one of the most dastardly op-eds I have ever read. She warns against providing aid to Afghanistan too quickly because that would reduce Western “leverage” over the Taliban:

Western countries should not move too fast. Just because we’ve failed to use our leverage in the past doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start now.

One way of thinking about the fraught matter of placing conditions on humanitarian assistance is to consider any offer to provide it as the equivalent of a treaty with a hostile foreign power. The nuclear deals with the USSR and Iran included not only conditions, but intrusive verification procedures. That’s the model that should be applied here.

Putting conditions on humanitarian assistance is always the wrong thing to do. In the case of Afghanistan, holding back resources that millions of Afghans need to survive the winter is monstrous and indefensible. It is not the fault of tens of millions of innocent Afghans that the Taliban won, and they should not be punished for the fact that the U.S. and its client did not prevail. Afghanistan faces a man-made famine if Afghanistan’s reserves are not unfrozen and aid does not resume, and this op-ed is the sort of twisted argument that lays the groundwork for causing such a famine.

The U.S. has the choice of stubbornly refusing to release the assets that it has frozen or allowing them to be used so that the Afghan people don’t die in huge numbers. The fact that there is even an argument over what should be done is a disgrace. It should be obvious that the Afghan people have already suffered enough and should not be punished harshly because our “nation-building” project collapsed in a matter of days. If the failure of the war in Afghanistan should have taught us anything, it is that we do not know what we are doing in that country. Playing games with the lives of tens of millions of people would repeat that error with truly horrific consequences.

Chayes presents this as a matter of “bailing out” the Taliban, but that is irrelevant under the circumstances. If the U.S. has the ability to help prevent massive loss of life simply by releasing frozen assets and providing humanitarian assistance, it should do so. The U.S. lost the war in Afghanistan, and it would be a terrible and unforgivable mistake to inflict even more suffering and death on that country in a vain effort to wield “leverage.”