Monday, March 9

Should the U.S. negotiate with the Taliban?

Writing on his blog on Saturday John Batchelor playfully asked whether President Obama's words on Friday were the first time he'd "ever acknowledged the Petraeus surge plan in Iraq was a 'success'."

I am pretty sure that was the first time, which The New York Times reported on in a March 7 report titled Obama Ponders Outreach to Elements of the Taliban. The Times quoted Obama as saying:
“If you talk to General Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq.”
If Obama's observations sound familiar, reference my March 4 post about Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, and Fareed's GPS show last week on CNN.

Yes; by amazing coincidence, just days before Obama's public announcement that he was considering reaching out to the Taliban, Fareed decided to discuss the subject of whether "the international community should have the same policy for the Taliban as it does al Qaeda."

I refused to link to the Newsweek article, which rehashes points Fareed brought up in the GPS program, but I finally broke down and read the thing. Here's the link and the key quote from the article -- a quote that Fareed did not think to bring up on the GPS program:
[...] David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency expert who has advised Petraeus, says, "I've had tribal leaders and Afghan government officials at the province and district level tell me that 90 percent of the people we call the Taliban are actually tribal fighters or Pashtun nationalists or people pursuing their own agendas. Less than 10 percent are ideologically aligned with the Quetta Shura [Mullah Omar's leadership group] or Al Qaeda."

These people are, in his view, "almost certainly reconcilable under some circumstances." Kilcullen adds, "That's very much what we did in Iraq. We negotiated with 90 percent of the people we were fighting."
Very few of that 90 percent were Islamists. They were for the most part Baathists/ex-Baathists and tribal chiefs -- a distinction that even Fareed mentions in his article.

Kilcullen is saying that we need to distinguish between the Taliban and other Afghani factions -- the same point I made in my March 4 post.

His observations are a far cry from saying that the US negotiated with the Islamists in Iraq. His words shouldn't be twisted to serve the argument that we should consider negotiating with the Taliban.

Obama straddles the fence by saying that we should think about "reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists."

Let's dispense with the word games. It would folly for the U.S. or NATO to negotiate with the Taliban or try to 'turn' them. The Taliban's unbroken record of breaking their agreements with Pakistan's government demonstrates just how much folly.

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