Right-wing media are attacking the Obama administration for engaging in “direct discussions” with the Taliban over the future of Afghanistan. But General David Petraeus and other national security experts who have served in every administration since the presidency of Richard Nixon say that it is in America's interest to negotiate with the Taliban.
Obama Announces “Direct Discussions” With Taliban
Obama: “In Coordination With The Afghan Government, My Administration Has Been In Direct Discussions With The Taliban.” From Obama's May 1 speech from Kabul, Afghanistan:
[W]e're pursuing a negotiated peace. In coordination with the Afghan government, my administration has been in direct discussions with the Taliban. We've made it clear that they can be a part of this future if they break with al Qaeda, renounce violence and abide by Afghan laws. Many members of the Taliban -- from foot soldiers to leaders -- have indicated an interest in reconciliation. The path to peace is now set before them. Those who refuse to walk it will face strong Afghan security forces, backed by the United States and our allies. [WhiteHouse.gov, 5/1/12]
Right-Wing Media Condemn Obama For Talking To The Taliban
Fox's Bolling: “These Are Evil People, They're Terrorists. There Is No Negotiating With The Taliban.” From the May 2 edition of Fox News' The Five:
KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE (co-host): Just a few hours after President Obama's speech, the Taliban killed seven people in response to his visit including children. So is negotiation really going to work, Eric?
ERIC BOLLING (co-host): No, it's not going to work. The Taliban don't -- Taliban, Taliban. Don't forget who they are. They were the ones who housed Osama bin Laden, they provided safe havens for Osama bin Laden, all during the time that the 1993 bombings of the World Trade Center happened, the 2001 bombings of the World Trade Center that happened, but it goes a little bit further.
BOLLING: These are evil people, they're terrorists. There is no negotiating with the Taliban. No matter how much President Obama wants to say we'll get out of there when we negotiate with them, it's a loss. As soon as we leave it's probably going to revert exactly back to what it was before. [Fox News, The Five, 5/2/12]
Fox's Gutfeld: “I Don't Understand Why We're Bowing To Heathens. ... Why Don't We Just Kill [The Taliban] And Leave?” From the May 2 edition of Fox News' The Five:
GREG GUTFELD (co-host): I don't understand why we're bowing to heathens who make, you know, the Flintstones look like the Jetsons. I don't -- why are we negotiating peace? Let's go, leave. This is a group that is announcing their spring offensive. It's like their fashion designers. Why announce your spring offensive? If somebody is announcing a spring offensive, they're announcing that they're going to kill you. Why don't we just kill them and leave? And then every now and then --
GUTFELD: Treat them like roaches. When you have to kill them you go in and kill them, and then you leave. Roaches never die. They always come back. Go there, kill them when you can, and leave. But the idea of like trying to save Afghanistan, people have been trying to save Afghanistan for years. Why don't we save something fun like Hawaii? [Fox News, The Five, 5/2/12]
Limbaugh: “Who Does [Obama] Think He's Talking To? Hey, Adolf, You Want To Be Part Of The Future?” On the May 2 edition of his radio show, Rush Limbaugh played excerpts of Obama's speech and then said:
LIMBAUGH: Right, what am I supposed to think, hearing that? What are we supposed to think? “My administration has been in direct discussion with the Taliban. We've made it clear that they can be a part of this future if they break with Al-Qaeda.” Who does he think he's talking to? Hey, Adolf, you want to be part of the future? All you've got to do is renounce Nazism. All you you've got to do is renounce all this talk about killing the Jews.
And if you do that, we're not making -- we're not going to make you live in America. You've just got renounce -- we, you know, we'll help you rebuild your country however you want it, not like us. All you've got to do is renounce Nazism. I mean, did any American president making that a central theme of the speech? American presidents have talked about defeat and surrender. And Obama didn't talk about defeat. He didn't talk about victory. He didn't talk about any of these other things.
He wants to use the power of his personality to make the Taliban renounce who they are. I mean, that's like going to a bunch of Jewish people and saying, “you know what, you've got to renounce your religion.” This is who these people are. This is a religious -- they're political, too. I know they're ideological. They've combined the two.
And, “we're building a global consensus” just like the one we had on global warming. “We're building a global consensus to support peace and stability, and our goal is not to build a country in America's image.” Oh, hell, no. Don't even think -- why, we wouldn't want you to become the land of freedom and liberty. No, no. Too many countries in the world like America. We want you to have your own.
We're not going to impose freedom on you. We're not going to impose our rotten, racist, homophobic values on you precious Taliban people. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 5/2/12, via Media Matters]
WSJ's Stephens: “We're Setting Ourselves Up For ... Disaster If We Continue To Imagine That The Taliban Wants Anything Other Than Our Surrender.” From the May 2 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
BRET STEPHENS (Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist): The administration keeps talking about the tide of war receding. It reminds me of a line by Leon Trotsky, to adapt it: We may not be interested in fighting the Taliban, but the Taliban are interested in fighting us. So the President is talking about a kind of fantasy Taliban that's interested in a negotiated settlement and a peaceful, civil future for Afghanistan. There is no such Taliban, at least among their leadership, and I wish that the administration would recognize that simple fact.
HARRIS FAULKNER: Before I let you go, there has been this call for -- we saw Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, to talk to the Taliban. Then the president of our country saying we've talked to the Taliban. What do they want exactly besides to fight?
STEPHENS: I think it's the appearance of negotiation. It's a little bit reminiscent of the negotiations the U.S. undertook with North Vietnam, which gave us quote unquote “peace with honor” in 1973. People with long memories remember exactly how that turned out. The North Vietnamese reneged on their agreements and pretty soon were sending their tanks right into Saigon. And we're setting ourselves up for precisely that kind of disaster if we continue to imagine that the Taliban wants anything other than our surrender and our disgrace. [Fox News, Happening Now, 5/2/12, via Media Matters]
But Military, Diplomatic, And National Security Experts Say That We Should Engage The Taliban
Petraeus: “You Have To Have ... An Open Mind” About Negotiations With Taliban Because That's The Way Counterinsurgency Campaigns “Have Been Concluded.” From an August 2010 CBS Evening News interview Gen. David Petraeus (ret.), who at the time was serving as commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan:
KATIE COURIC (host): So you have no moral qualms about bringing the Taliban, even high-ranking members of the Taliban, into the process?
PETRAEUS: It's not about my moral qualms, it's about the Afghanistan leadership, which has established the red lines. And I think that you have to have at least an open mind about this because this is historically the way counterinsurgency efforts ultimately have been concluded.
COURIC: What would the Afghan and the U.S. have to offer the Taliban in negotiations?
PETRAEUS: They can live is number one, and number two, perhaps they can return to their country of origin. A lot of them are tired of, again, living the life on the run, of being pursued, of living outside the country and so forth. And so I think that those are all, you know, fairly powerful incentives for them.
COURIC: So you think they'd be receptive to reconciliation?
PETRAEUS: Some. Again, I don't think there's an expectation that Mullah Omar is going to charter a plane to Kabul any time soon to sit down and discuss the Taliban laying down weapons en masse. However, there are certainly leaders out there who we believe are willing to do that. [CBS Evening News, 8/20/10]
Former Bush Administration Special Envoy For Afghanistan: Negotiation “Is The Only Way In Which This War Is Likely To End In A Long-Term Peace.” In a 2011 RAND Corporation study titled Afghan Peace Talks: A Primer, James Shinn, an author of the Bush administration Afghan Strategy Review and a current Romney adviser, and Ambassador James Dobbins, former Bush administration special envoy for Afghanistan, wrote:
We thus recommend that the United States seek the appointment of a United Nations-endorsed facilitator to promote agreement among all the necessary parties to an Afghan peace process regarding a venue, participation, and the agenda for talks. We believe that Germany (perhaps Bonn) might be a good locale for such talks, as might a site in Turkey. Alternatively, if the Taliban objects to a NATO locale, Geneva is a neutral site where the parties could conveniently converge.
As the monograph makes clear, we are quite aware of the many obstacles to an agreement, and we believe the process will probably require years of talking. During this time, fighting will likely continue and may even intensify. Negotiation does not represent an easy or early path out of Afghanistan for the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, but it is the only way in which this war is likely to end in a long-term peace. [RAND CORP., Afghan Peace Talks: A Primer, 2011]
Defense Secretary Gates On Talks With Taliban: “We Have Said All Along That A Political Outcome Is The Way Most Of The Wars End.” Robert Gates, who served as Defense Secretary under both President George W. Bush and President Obama, appeared on CNN's State of the Union soon after the death of Osama bin Laden and said the following:
CANDY CROWLEY (host): Secretary Gates, thank you so much for joining us. Let me get to some news here over the weekend. And that is President Karzai from Afghanistan says that the U.S. is talking directly to the Taliban in peace talks. Is that so?
GATES: Well, I think there has been outreach on the part of a number of countries, including the United States. I would say that these contacts are very preliminary at this point.
CROWLEY: And is the nature of it how can we get peace here?
GATES: Well, I think first question we have is who represents Mullah Omar? Who really represents the Taliban? We don't want to end up having a conversation at some point with somebody who's basically a freelancer.
And I mean, my own view is that real reconciliation talks are not likely to be able to make a substantive headway until at least this winter. I think that the Taliban have to feel themselves under military pressure and begin to believe they can't win before they are willing to have a serious conversation.
We have all said all along that a political outcome is the way most of the wars end. The question is when and if they are ready to talk seriously about meeting the red lines that President Karzai and that the coalition have laid down, including totally disavowing Al Qaida.
GATES: Look, we ended up talking to people in Anbar Province in Iraq who were directly killing -- had directly been involved in killing our troops. That's the way wars end. [CNN, State of the Union, 6/19/11]
Former Bush National Security Adviser Hadley Endorses Efforts To Approach “Taliban Elements That Are Ready To Give Up The Fight.” In a January 18 Foreign Policy piece, Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, and John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, wrote:
U.S. policy is now entering a new and complex phase of this conflict, where diplomatic efforts in support of a robust political strategy for Afghanistan and the region will become even more essential. This effort should not become a political football in the coming election season -- it needs strong bipartisan support here at home.
U.S. political leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, and our military commanders, have consistently argued that the conflict in Afghanistan will not end by military means alone. The elimination of al Qaeda's safe havens and the establishment of long-term peace and security in Afghanistan and the region -- the key U.S. national security objectives -- is best assured by a sustainable political settlement that strengthens the Afghan state so that it can assume greater responsibility for addressing the country's security and economic challenges.
Efforts to reach a settlement should include an approach to Taliban elements that are ready to give up the fight and become part of the political process. Such an approach would not -- as some have suggested -- constitute “surrender” to America's enemies. Rather, convincing combatants to leave the insurgency and enter into the political process is the hallmark of a successful counterinsurgency effort. [Foreign Policy, 1/18/12]
Longtime Diplomat Pickering: Afghanistan “Stalemate Can Be Resolved Only With A Negotiated Political Settlement” With The Taliban. In March 2011, The New York Times published an op-ed on Afghanistan co-written by Lakhdar Brahimi, a former United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, and Thomas R. Pickering, who has served in the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton administrations. Brahimi and Pickering wrote:
Despite the American-led counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, the Taliban resistance endures. It is not realistic to think it can be eradicated. Efforts by the Afghan government, the United States and their allies to win over insurgents and co-opt Taliban leaders into joining the Kabul regime are unlikely to end the conflict.
The current strategy of “reintegration” may peel away some fighters and small units, but it does not provide the political resolution that peace will require.
Neither side of the conflict can hope to vanquish the other through force. Meanwhile, public support in Western countries for keeping troops in Afghanistan has fallen. The Afghan people are weary of a long and debilitating war.
For their part, the Taliban have encountered resistance from Afghans who are not part of their dedicated base when they have tried to impose their stern moral code. International aid has improved living standards among Afghans in areas not under Taliban control. That has placed new pressure on the Taliban, as has an increasing ambivalence toward the Taliban in Pakistan.
The stalemate can be resolved only with a negotiated political settlement involving President Hamid Karzai's government and its allies, the Taliban and its supporters in Pakistan, and other regional and international parties. The United States has been holding back from direct negotiations, hoping the ground war will shift decisively in its favor. But we believe the best moment to start the process toward reconciliation is now, while force levels are near their peak. [The New York Times, 3/22/11]
National Security Expert Jacobson: Taliban Negotiations Are “About Protecting The United States.” In an interview with Media Matters, Mark Jacobson, a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund (GMF) of the United States and a senior fellow at the Truman National Security Project, explained the importance of negotiations with the Taliban: “The U.S. has to make sure we help the Afghanistan government eliminate drivers of the insurgency and not only kill insurgents,” he said. “This is about protecting the United States. We need to ensure that the Taliban won't provide a sanctuary for Al-Qaeda.” Jacobson also stated: “At some point you have to sit across the table from people who tried to kill you. We can't kill our way out of this situation.” He also said that “anyone who's saying this is simply about killing insurgents does not understand the nature of the conflict in Afghanistan.” [Phone conversation with Media Matters, 5/3/12]
Specialist On Afghanistan And Pakistan Endorses Talks With Taliban, Saying Gains In Afghanistan “Unlikely To Last” Without Them. In a January 9 Foreign Affairs piece, Michael Semple, a regional specialist on Afghanistan and Pakistan and fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, wrote:
Some in the West scoff at even the notion of reconciling with the Taliban, considering it a vicious group that rules by brute force, that has killed thousands of allied troops, and that subjugates women. But ten years of security-led strategies have neither rid Afghanistan of the Taliban nor split it from al Qaeda. Now, at last, there is some sign that engagement, negotiation, and diplomacy might at least open up the possibility of bringing the three-decade-long war in Afghanistan to an end. Without giving peace a chance, any gains that Afghanistan or the United States might have made after a decade of intervention are unlikely to last. Considering even the most significant risks, it would still be better to move forward cautiously than to not engage at all. [Foreign Affairs, 1/9/12]