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Once again, the United States and the Taliban are apparently close to striking a peace deal. Such a peace agreement has been rumored to be in the works longer than the latest "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" sequel. (The difference is Keanu Reeves has fewer f**ks to give than U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.)
Both sides appeared to be close to reaching an agreement in September until the Taliban took credit for an attack that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. That prompted President Donald Trump to angrily cancel a planned summit with the Taliban that had been scheduled to take place at Camp David, Maryland, on Sept. 8.
Now Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has told a Pakistani newspaper that he is "optimistic" that the Taliban could reach an agreement with U.S. negotiators by the end of January.
While Iran and the United States remain one shot away from war, the fact that Iran's ballistic missiles did not inflict casualties on American, coalition, or Iraqi forces appears to have given both sides an out, at least for the moment.
But experts agree that Iran has not finished seeking revenge for the death of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad. Iran retaliated by firing 16 short-range ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases that host U.S. troops. President Donald Trump has decided to impose further sanctions on Iran rather than responding militarily.
The immediate crisis may be over, but Iran is likely to "resume provocations" unless it gets some relief from the United States' maximum pressure campaign, said Michèle Flournoy, who served as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from February 2009 to February 2012.
The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, but after authorizing military force against Al Qaeda in 2001 and Saddam Hussein in 2002, lawmakers have been happy to cede all decisions to the White House on whether U.S. troops live or die.
Now, after an airstrike that killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, it's worth asking whether Congress will step in for oversight or sit back and watch as a new war festers in the Middle East.
Since the Washington Post first published the "Afghanistan papers," I have been reminded of a scene from "Apocalypse Now Redux" in which Army Col. Walter Kurtz reads to the soldier assigned to kill him two Time magazine articles showing how the American people had been lied to about Vietnam by both the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations.
In one of the articles, a British counterinsurgency expert tells Nixon that "things felt much better and smelled much better" during his visit to Vietnam.
"How do they smell to you, soldier?" Kurtz asks.
The Pentagon’s troop deployment denials means nothing when the White House screams ‘fake news’ all the time
The Pentagon has a credibility problem that is the result of the White House's scorched earth policy against any criticism. As a result, all statements from senior leaders are suspect.
We're beyond the point of defense officials being unable to say for certain whether a dog is a good boy or girl. Now we're at the point where the Pentagon has spent three days trying to knock down a Wall Street Journal story about possible deployments to the Middle East, and they've failed to persuade either the press or Congress.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the United States was considering deploying up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East to thwart any potential Iranian attacks. The story made clear that President Trump could ultimately decide to send a smaller number of service members, but defense officials have become fixated on the number 14,000 as if it were the only option on the table.
It is impossible to tune out news about the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump now that the hearings have become public. And this means that cable news networks and Congress are happier than pigs in manure: this story will dominate the news for the foreseeable future unless Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt get back together.
But the wall-to-wall coverage of impeachment mania has also created a news desert. To those of you who would rather emigrate to North Korea than watch one more lawmaker grandstand for the cameras, I humbly offer you an oasis of news that has absolutely nothing to do with Washington intrigue.