Leave it to Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador in Kabul, Islamabad, and Baghdad, among other capitals, and the greatest diplomat of his generation, to offer the definitive verdict on the “zero option”–the zany plan being floated by the White House to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan after 2014. This is what Crocker told foreign policy columnist Trudy Rubin:

If it’s a tactic, it is mindless; if it is a strategy, it is criminal.

Nothing could encourage the Taliban more. The Pakistanis [who are helping the Taliban] will dig in harder. It will send Karzai in completely the wrong direction.

It invokes memories of the early 1990s. It’s as if we’re telling the Afghans, ‘We’re tired, we’re going home, screw you.’

The only thing one can add to this cogent and pithy summary is that it is not only the Afghans who will be “screwed” by American withdrawal–we would be screwing ourselves. The primary reason why are in Afghanistan, after all, is not as a service to Hamid Karzai or even to promote human rights but, rather, to allow us to effectively target the terrorist groups responsible for 9/11 and many smaller outrages.

Few would disagree with our need to maintain intelligence assets and drones in Afghanistan that allow us to strike our most vicious enemies–most famously in the case of the raid on Osama bin Laden which took off from Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. But our ability to maintain those intelligence assets in Afghanistan is contingent on our ability to maintain the support of the Afghan government for this continuing deployment and on the ability of that government to maintain a modicum of security to allow CIA spooks and military special operators to function. That is now being cast into doubt by the drawdown.

The Washington Post‘s Greg Miller reports that “the CIA has begun closing clandestine bases in Afghanistan.” Current plans are to reduce the number of CIA bases from a total of a dozen to six or so by the end of 2014. But even the ability to maintain those six is contingent on military support since most of the CIA installations are in close proximity to U.S. military bases and depend on U.S. military support for logistics, security, and other requirements to augment the CIA’s limited capabilities in those regards.

The Post notes: “A full withdrawal of U.S. troops would probably trigger a deeper retrenchment by the CIA, which has relied on U.S. and allied military installations across the country to serve as bases for agency operatives and cover for their spying operations. The CIA’s armed drones are flown from a heavily fortified airstrip near the Pakistan border in Jalalabad.”

In all likelihood, if the U.S. refuses to support and train the Afghan military, the government of Afghanistan will tell the CIA and Special Operations Command to get lost–Afghanistan is not going to act as a platform for American strikes on America’s enemies if we are not providing a valuable service to Kabul in return.

In short, a zero option would amount to not only no conventional troops but few if any spies and commandos. That is an utterly unwarranted gift to the Taliban, Haqqanis, al-Qaeda, the Pakistan Taliban, and other dangerous extremist groups.

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