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In the last week the New York Times and Inter Press Service have reported that the Obama Administration is having an internal debate on whether to supports talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, including Mullah Muhammad Omar, as a means of ending the war in Afghanistan. Senior officials like Vice President Biden are said to be more open to reaching out because they believe it will help shorten the war.

Wouldn't it be remarkable if this remained merely an "internal debate" within the Obama Administration? Wouldn't you expect that the part of public opinion that wants the war to end would try to intervene in this debate on behalf of talks in order to end the war?

As an administration official told the New York Times,

"Today, people agree that part of the solution for Afghanistan is going to include an accommodation with the Taliban, even above low- and middle-level fighters."

And in fact, US and British officials have been saying for months that the "endgame" in Afghanistan includes a negotiated political settlement with the Afghan Taliban.

Now, suppose you tell Mom that you want to have ice cream. And Mom says, you can have ice cream when you've eaten your spinach. Wouldn't you eat your spinach? If you don't eat your spinach now, you didn't want ice cream very badly.

So if U.S. and British officials say the endgame includes a negotiated political settlement with the Afghan Taliban, and you figure, extrapolating from the last five thousand years of human history, that a negotiated political settlement typically does not just drop down from the sky, but in fact is generally preceded by political negotiations, and you want to end the war as soon as possible, wouldn't you be clamoring for political negotiations to start as soon as possible? Because the longer political negotiations are delayed, the longer the war will last. If you don't support political negotiations now, you don't want to end the war very badly.

If you consider peace negotiations with the Afghan Taliban "distasteful," consider this: every month that the war continues, every month that U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, is another month in which U.S. soldiers will die horrible deaths, be horribly maimed, and be horribly scarred psychologically, perhaps for life. It's also another month in which the U.S. military is likely to "accidentally" kill Afghan government soldiers (such episodes "are not uncommon," the New York Times notes) and kill Afghan civilians, as they have done at least twice in the last week, according to the reporting in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

I put the word "accidentally" in quotation marks, not of course because I believe that the U.S. military is killing Afghan soldiers and Afghan civilians "on purpose," but because when you repeatedly take an action (continuing the war) that leads to a predictable result (killing Afghan government soldiers and civilians) you lose the exoneration otherwise conferred by the word "accidentally."

Is this not also "distasteful"? Is killing innocent people not more "distasteful" than peace talks?

Gareth Porter, writing for Inter Press Service, reports that an official of the Western military coalition says there has been a debate among U.S. officials about "the terms on which the Taliban will become part of the political fabric." The debate is not on whether the Taliban movement will be participating in the Afghan political system, Porter reports, but on whether or not the administration could accept the participation of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar in the political future of Afghanistan.

The Afghan Taliban has insisted in published statements that it will not participate in peace talks that would not result in the withdrawal of foreign troops, Porter notes. That raises the question of whether the administration would be willing to discuss the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan as part of a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

The Obama Administration has stated publicly that it has no long-term interest in maintaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Therefore, should not the U.S. be willing to agree to a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops as part of a negotiated settlement? We're leaving anyway, according to U.S. officials - what's holding us back from agreeing, as part of a negotiation, to do what we plan to do anyway?

U.S. officials have said that the war is all about the relationship between the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda. When the Afghan Taliban breaks with al Qaeda the war is over, say these officials. Some say that Mullah Omar is ready to break with al Qaeda, including the Pakistani intelligence officer who trained him; while Osama bin Laden's son Omar says Al Qaeda and the Taliban are only "allies of convenience." Why wouldn't we put these propositions to the test through negotiations?

If you think, for the sake of peace, the United States should be willing to agree to do on a timetable that which it claims it intends to do anyway, tell President Obama.

Originally posted to Robert Naiman on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 10:26 AM PST.

Poll

The Obama Administration should support peace talks in Afghanistan that include senior Taliban leaders

71%23 votes
28%9 votes

| 32 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Excellent post Robert. (6+ / 0-)

    Thank you.

    "The truth shall set you free - but first it'll piss you off." Gloria Steinem

    Save the Internet!

    by One Pissed Off Liberal on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 10:31:04 AM PST

    •  Stones into Schools (3+ / 0-)

      Stones into Schools

      This is the person who should have won the Nobel Peace Prize, over 130 schools built, including schools in deep Taliban territory.  Educate the children and build a better country.

      From an interview with Greg Mortenson:

      GREG MORTENSON: What I really favor are, whoever it is – whether it’s the military or the State Department or political leaders – going over and sitting down and listening to the shura.  The Afghan government is very corrupt, it’s very fickle.  And the shura – when the reconstruction policy was set up in Afghanistan at the Bonn Conference in December of 2001 – 18 nations got together, and decided how to rebuild the country. But they set up a centralized, de-provincialized process which was exactly the opposite of the Marshall Plan after World War II.  That was a provincialized, decentralized process, and only recently, in the last couple of years, has that started to change.

      Mortenson interview on NPR

      Medicare for All, that is the REAL public option that only needs 50 votes + Biden.

      by MD patriot on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:35:15 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The Administration will do the right thing.... (0+ / 0-)

    and not support any peace talks.  Or limit it to ONLY on their terms.  The ONLY reason this is even possible right now is because the Taliban are losing.

    There is plenty of history that foretells what will happen.  A weakened Taliban capitulates by appealing to a Democracies desire to negotiate peace.  They use the time to rebuild and strengthen.  Eventually someone has to go back in there and start fighting them again as they slowly start to stir up sheit.  Rinse repeat.

    Obama is a student of history and I doubt he will make the same mistake.

    Now is the time to really stick it to them and beat them down further otherwise your just kicking the can down the road again.

    Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing. --George Orwell

    by thestupiditburns on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 10:33:50 AM PST

  •  How many times have the US (0+ / 0-)

    cut deals with militants only to have it come back and be ten times worse.

    Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

    by bvig on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 10:34:15 AM PST

    •  I give up. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MD patriot, Robert Naiman, nippersdad

      How many times has the US made peace and then regretted it didn't keep the war going?

      •  they've tried negotiating with the taliban before (0+ / 0-)

        and it hasn't worked.

        US doesn't usually make peace by these kind of actions.

        Iraq, Haiti, Iran, Afghanistan.

        A lot of times these bad policies only lead to more wars.

        Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

        by bvig on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 10:44:42 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Question: Did the Taliban even exist (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          MD patriot
          prior to Gate's importation of Wahabism to Afghanistan to fight the Russians? Iraq, Haiti, Iran and Afghanistan; what links all of your examples is the fact that our policies have loomed large in what they have become. What is unwise to deal with the problems of our own creation is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results.

          A Republican is someone who can't enjoy his privileged position unless he is certain that somewhere, someone is in excruciating agony. I Love OCD

          by nippersdad on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:13:06 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  re: Iraq (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            MD patriot

            actually, the received wisdom in Washington is that negotiating in Iraq largely worked (the Sunni "Awakening") and I think in this case the conventional wisdom is more true than it is false. Note that a timetable for the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan is now the basis of a signed agreement between Iraq and the United States, in part because of the Bush Administration's turn to negotiations.

            •  so far they may be (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              nippersdad

              the problem usually surfaces in the future.

              Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

              by bvig on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:30:37 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  I'm not so sure. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              bvig

              We are continuing the Bush policy of paying off the sunni insurgents and now I am seeing articles prophesying a civil war in Iraq once our influence abates (though I have no idea when that will happen). I think we have been able to put a stopper in the violence there for the most part, but it is really only a temporary situation.

              A Republican is someone who can't enjoy his privileged position unless he is certain that somewhere, someone is in excruciating agony. I Love OCD

              by nippersdad on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:34:20 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  some links (0+ / 0-)

            Iran contra
            and
            supporting Saddam
            http://www.gwu.edu/...
            Rumsfeld went over there while they were using chemical warfare and didn't mention it, even though a year later they were called on it, but still provided them with some military equipment

            http://www.cfr.org/...
            US helped provide taliban with weapons

            http://en.wikipedia.org/...
            Currently, it's' been more through economic policy
            http://www.haitisolidarity.net/...

            Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

            by bvig on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:27:04 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  The problem in Iraq predates the Iran/Iraq war (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              bvig

              to when the CIA supported the overthrow of their democratically elected government by Saddam and some other guy whose name I cannot remember at the moment. I remember the sales to Iraq; many of them were through the CDC. Shoot! You could go back to the British installation of a Saudi Prince as King after the WWI! We have only ever been interested in their oil, and it shows.

              Council for Foreign Relations? I wouldn't trust anything that they had to say. That is like NeoCon central. Yes we provided the Taliban with weapons, but the Taliban itself is a result of interference by the U.S. Afghanistan never had such a reactionary Islamic presence among the native population before we imported people like OBL.

              Haiti has a long history of U.S. interference in their affairs. The Monroe Doctrine has a lot to answer for.

              These are all ilustrative of my point. At some point we need to get out of their hair and let them emerge naturally. We only create enemies when we ensure that American interests are served in their populations' governance.

              A Republican is someone who can't enjoy his privileged position unless he is certain that somewhere, someone is in excruciating agony. I Love OCD

              by nippersdad on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:42:16 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Agreed on many of those points (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                nippersdad

                and getting out is one thing, but creating a treaty or handing over more power to the Taliban as we go out isn't exactly

                need to get out of their hair and let them emerge naturally

                since the Taliban isn't wanted or natural for that area.

                Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

                by bvig on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 12:45:14 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Exactly! (0+ / 0-)

                  Any Treaty worthy of the name will have more input than just that of the Taliban and the U.S., everyone needs to have buy in or it will not work. The Taliban is not popular, if they have to deal with everyone else on an equal basis they will not be able to dictate terms or outcomes. With everyone on board to implement and defend the terms, the Taliban will ultimately be defeated by its' own unpopularity.

                  Get rid of the warlords who support the Taliban as enforcers of their will through a more Democratic form of government not tainted by undue influence by the U.S. or the Taliban and the odds of success rise dramatically. We need to be supporting the voiceless, not the loud voices who shout every one else down, including our own.

                  A Republican is someone who can't enjoy his privileged position unless he is certain that somewhere, someone is in excruciating agony. I Love OCD

                  by nippersdad on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 12:53:07 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  But they have the most weaponry (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    nippersdad

                    which is how they've been able to maintain their presence despite unpopularity.  How do you deal with that?  You can say put other people there in a democratic process, but the Taliban says we'll chop off your fingers if you vote (a real threat they put out).  So how do you get rid of the power they have to put them on a playing field with the other Afghanistan interests that don't have weaponry.

                    Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

                    by bvig on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 12:56:52 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  They have the most weaponry because we (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      bvig

                      have been arming them, both directly and indirectly, for decades. The problem is not so much the Taliban as the warlords who support them as a defacto police force. We really need to change the locus of power away from the corrupt feudal system that is presently the fallback in the provinces.

                      Karzai is only the face of a far deeper corruption problem. The revolving door between the Taliban and the Afghan army is appalling. I don't see how we can change anything as long as we delegate power to the very elements which ultimately oppose us.

                      A Republican is someone who can't enjoy his privileged position unless he is certain that somewhere, someone is in excruciating agony. I Love OCD

                      by nippersdad on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 01:46:36 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Agree with most of this as well (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        nippersdad

                        it's not just warlords who support the Taliban though, well I guess I'm not sure what you mean by warlords.  

                        And I do agree schools need to be built and more of a ground up approach I just don't know that it will be any better if we leave, or be how it was in the 90s with women and children getting killed and having to hide away in their houses and being a breeding ground for terrorists (which is now moved into Pakistan as well, which has nuclear weapons).  It seems like it's a no win situation for Afghanistan.

                        Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

                        by bvig on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 01:55:11 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  I don't think we need to leave (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          bvig

                          so much as change our strategy. No one wins wars in Afghanistan, no one. However, were we not perceived to be at war with Afghans there would be little support for those who are deemed to be fighting for their interests. Build it and they will come, use it as a public relations/proxy war against a tactic and they will check out.

                          Afghans welcomed us with the fall of the Taliban, they had hoped for a return to the Pre-Russian invasion conditions of their country that so few can now remember. What they saw afterward was our support for the more corrupt elements of their society and endless, endless war. Given a pyrrhic choice it should come as no surprise that we are still there fighting the same old people. As it stands, the only people winning now are NeoCons and their Congressional, MIC supporters.

                          A Republican is someone who can't enjoy his privileged position unless he is certain that somewhere, someone is in excruciating agony. I Love OCD

                          by nippersdad on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 02:16:45 PM PST

                          [ Parent ]

  •  What would we negotiate with them? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bvig

    A slight dilution in the acid they throw at schoolgirls?  

    Enrich your life with adverbs!

    by Rich in PA on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 10:52:23 AM PST

    •  re: what we would negotiate (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MD patriot, nippersdad

      If you think that the US should be fighting a war to "liberate Afghan women," then you have a problem with the Obama Administration, not with me. Because the Obama Administration says that it's fighting a war for U.S. security, not a war for the liberation of Afghan women.

      Therefore, what we would negotiate is the issue in dispute that, according to the Obama Administration, is the cause of continuing the war: the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda.

      •  Let's say we win 100% on that point (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bvig

        In other words, the Taliban cuts all ties, whatever may still exist, with Al Qaeda.  What do we give them in return, and is that something we can give without violating international commitments just as binding as we've broken so far?  Put another way, is one of the commitments of an occupying power that they won't abandon the occupied population to a (domestic) force that would violate all known standards of how governments should act towards their people?  In the case of the Taliban this isn't speculative, since they actually ruled Afghanistan for several years.

        To me, negotiating with the Taliban is the worst of both worlds because it would give us the same disastrous outcome for Afghans that a sudden unilateral US withdrawal would, plus it dignifies and validates the Taliban.  

        Enrich your life with adverbs!

        by Rich in PA on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:11:30 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Ho Chi Minh too? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          MD patriot

          the USA can't win in Afganistan according to the generals so we negotiate a way to call it a victory and go home. Works every time.

        •  The idea is to negotiate with them (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          MD patriot, Robert Naiman

          in tandem with other stakeholders in the region. This would, of necessity, reduce their imprint on any settlement and have others to help enforce it. Including them in negotiations would not increase their influence, it would effectively decrease it by making them one of many interests which would have to be balanced.

          A Republican is someone who can't enjoy his privileged position unless he is certain that somewhere, someone is in excruciating agony. I Love OCD

          by nippersdad on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:19:02 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  The other stakeholders? (0+ / 0-)

            I'd love to see a list.  The Taliban's attitude to other stakeholders is that they can go along with the Taliban's program of government and live, or they can oppose that program and die.  I think the Taliban are, negotiation-wise, like the North Koreans: they see everyone else in Afghan society as US puppets, and they would therefore only want to negotiate with us as the puppetmasters.  

            Enrich your life with adverbs!

            by Rich in PA on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:31:47 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Afghanistan has a lot of ethnic (0+ / 0-)

              and tribal diversity within its' borders, the Taliban is really only limited to the majority Pashtuns in the south, and is not particularly popular even with them. At present they are the only people with whom we are dealing, and that has caused a lot of political backlash which could be coopted were we to proactively bring others in on an equal basis.

              The Taliban is only preferable because they are native. The natives just want the bombs to stop, they don't care who manages it. Right now the Talibaqn is winning that argument, this is a way to take it back and simultaneously devalue the Taliban's influence on the result.

              A Republican is someone who can't enjoy his privileged position unless he is certain that somewhere, someone is in excruciating agony. I Love OCD

              by nippersdad on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:51:50 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  how do you balance a desire for hostile takeover (0+ / 0-)

            why would they cooperate with their own people that they never have before

            Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

            by bvig on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:33:38 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  they've tried "peace deals" before (0+ / 0-)

            Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

            by bvig on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:35:42 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  It is kind of unfair to use Pakistan as (0+ / 0-)

              an example. Waziristan is Taliban central and has many moles within the Pakistani government. Pakistan has, remember, supported the Taliban sub rosa for years. This deal was not so much a peace treaty for Afghans as it was a way of securing the western front for Pakistan, so that they could concentrate on India and still continue to receive military funding from the U.S.

              Afghans really do not like the Taliban. Polls show that they are very unpopular amongst the indigenous population. They do, however, provide some degree of stability that the U.S. has shown that it cannot. They are the Afghans "lesser evil" at this point.

              A Republican is someone who can't enjoy his privileged position unless he is certain that somewhere, someone is in excruciating agony. I Love OCD

              by nippersdad on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:57:20 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  First of all (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          nippersdad

          supporting negotiations with the Taliban is already stated U.S. policy. The difference between me and the Obama Administration is that I want the negotiations to start now, so the war can end sooner. The current position of the Administration - so far, according to recent press reports this is the subject of debate inside the Administration, with Biden leaning towards my position - is that negotiations must wait until we've weakened the Taliban.

          The problem with this is:

          1. it continues the war, with the costs that I noted in my diary.
          1. it's likely that the situation won't be better 12 months from now. The Taliban might be weaker, and they might not be weaker.
          1. in part because of 2, it isn't obvious that the deal we could get 12 months from now is that different from the deal we could get now. Why wager the predictable American and Afghan deaths from continued war on such an uncertain difference in outcome?
          1. just because you talk, doesn't mean you can't fight. Personally I would prefer an immediate cease-fire, but if that can't be achieved, there can still be talks.
          •  It just comes back to the same non-snarky Q (0+ / 0-)

            Q as in question, that is.  Maybe it's a failure of imagination on my part, but I can't imagine what a negotiation would look like.  I think many in the pro-negotiation camp are imposing a generic rational-actor understanding on a movement that isn't susceptible to understanding on those terms.  This doesn't make them crazy (except to the extent you consider any religion-based movement crazy, as I do), but it does make them different.

            Enrich your life with adverbs!

            by Rich in PA on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:36:46 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Rational actor should be the default (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              nippersdad

              If someone really has evidence that the Afghan Taliban leadership are not rational actors with respect to the issues at hand, they should present it.

              In any event, suppose that the U.S. indicates its support for negotiations and the Afghan Taliban says: go drink the water of the sea. What did we lose? Nothing. In fact, we look good: we're willing to talk, and the Taliban are not.

              •  What would you accept as evidence (0+ / 0-)

                for not rational actors.

                They repeatedly attack their own people and threaten them.

                Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

                by bvig on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 12:59:22 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  What I would accept as evidence (0+ / 0-)

                  For example: if the U.S. proposes a negotiated settlement in which the U.S. agrees to a timetable for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan in exchange for a guarantee from the Afghan Taliban that they will not in any way support or tolerate the use of Afghanistan as a base to organize, plan, train for, finance etc. attacks on the United States, and the Afghan Taliban says in response, go drink the water of the sea, we will never negotiate with the infidel, even if you kill us all, even if you are willing to withdraw all foreign troops from our country, we would rather die horrible deaths than exchange a word of greeting with an American. I would accept that as evidence that the Afghan Taliban are not rational actors.

  •  did you agree with the munich agreement? (0+ / 0-)

    I know it's not a nice question but I'm just saying, treaties aren't always the peaceful solution.

    Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

    by bvig on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 11:40:47 AM PST

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