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As evidence for the observation that the clear and present danger that Wikileaks represents to Western civilization as we know it has been wildly exaggerated, consider this shocking revelation from the Guardian last Thursday. Under the headline: "WikiLeaks cables show surrender is only option offered to Taliban: Afghan president speaks publicly of negotiation but pursues US-backed policy that rejects talks with insurgent leadership," the Guardian reported that "the secret cables show a united US front against talks" and that Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said: "There will be no power-sharing with elements of the Taliban."

If the representation of Thursday's Guardian article were a true description of present-day reality, that would be an extremely damning revelation. It would prove that recent US government public statements that the US supports talks with senior Taliban leaders and is open to a power-sharing deal in Afghanistan that includes the Afghan Taliban are lies.

But there's a problem. Although the Guardian article uses the present tense to describe US policy as revealed by the Wikileaks cables, the cable cited by the Guardian in which Holbrooke is quoted is dated January 28, 2010.

The fact that the US previously opposed talks with senior Taliban officials is a matter of public record. But subsequently, the US claimed that its policy had changed.

Indeed, the Guardian reported in July, under the headline: "White House shifts Afghanistan strategy towards talks with Taliban: Senior Washington officials tell the Guardian of a 'change of mindset' over Obama administration's Afghanistan policy":

The White House is revising its Afghanistan strategy to embrace the idea of negotiating with senior members of the Taliban through third parties - a policy to which it had previously been lukewarm.

Negotiating with the Taliban has long been advocated by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and the British and Pakistani governments, but resisted by Washington.

The Guardian has learned that while the American government is still officially resistant to the idea of talks with Taliban leaders, behind the scenes a shift is under way and Washington is encouraging Karzai to take a lead in such negotiations.

"There is a change of mindset in DC," a senior official in Washington said. "There is no military solution. That means you have to find something else. There was something missing."

That missing element was talks with the Taliban leadership, the official added.

As the Guardian noted in the July article:

Earlier this year Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, distinguished between "reintegration", which the US supported, and "reconciliation" or negotiating with senior Taliban. Holbrooke said: "Let me be clear. There is no American involvement in any reconciliation process."

In other words, according to the Guardian's own reporting, the public Holbrooke of "earlier this year" described by the Guardian in July matches the private Holbrooke of January as revealed by the leaked cable.

Now, of course, this doesn't prove that US policy has meaningfully changed, or that Richard Holbrooke is an exemplary human being. But it shows that Thursday's Guardian article should not have used the present tense to describe US policy based on the leaked cables while ignoring its own reporting, subsequent to the dates of the leaked cables being examined, that the US said its policy had changed. A lot has happened in the world since January, including official moves by the Afghan government to engage senior Taliban leaders, moves officially supported by the US. None of the cables cited in the Thursday Guardian article appear to be more recent than January, and all of the claims that the Guardian article makes in the present tense appear to have been broadly known in press reports as having been true at the time that the cables were written.

It remains unclear how serious the U.S. is about pursuing a plausible negotiated settlement. It is not at all clear that the US now really supports a plausible power-sharing deal in Afghanistan, or meaningful negotiations with senior Taliban officials. But to claim the contrary, we need evidence from after the US announced that it had changed its policy.

It's important to understand this situation as best we can, because the most important change in policy needed to end the war sooner rather than later is for the U.S. to seriously pursue a negotiated political settlement that ends the war.

So it's important that what we know about the US stance be reported correctly. If public understanding of the situation becomes pea soup, that makes it harder for people to effectively advocate for the needed change in policy to end the war.

Originally posted to Robert Naiman on Mon Dec 06, 2010 at 10:50 AM PST.

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The US should seriously pursue efforts to negotiate a political solution that ends the war in Afghanistan

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Comment Preferences

  •  you should always seriously (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    erratic, shenderson

    pursue peace with your enemies.

    However, I do not believe that the Taliban would ever engage seriously in power sharing. At their core, they are radicals.

    The rank and file likely aren't, they are just people trying to live, but the Taliban leadership are not likely to sign off on anything that doesn't strictly conform to their twisted mandates of the Koran.

    •  Agreed. However an agreement with the Taliban (0+ / 0-)

      that marginalized Al Qaeda would be a significant step forward.

      "When Siddhartha has a goal, he does nothing. He thinks. He waits. He fasts. He goes through life like a stone through water."

      by erratic on Mon Dec 06, 2010 at 11:38:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  sure (0+ / 0-)

        and hope it happens, but I just don't see it, those guys have one goal.

        •  the taliban offered to put AQ on trial (0+ / 0-)

          and surrender them, after 9/11. Whatever their goal is, it's not AQ's. Our fight has always been with AQ.

          "When Siddhartha has a goal, he does nothing. He thinks. He waits. He fasts. He goes through life like a stone through water."

          by erratic on Mon Dec 06, 2010 at 07:48:04 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  their goal (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            erratic

            is an autocratic muslim state in afghanistan, and I think that would result in pretty much a wild west type of situation.

            I think any offer of that type was a stalling maneuver at best, or perhaps a last desperate grasp to remain in power. I'm not convinced they would have actually done it.

            •  and what is the US goal in Afghanistan? (0+ / 0-)

              I'm not convinced either. But it's an offer I would have considered carefully, in W's shoes, probably would have gone a few steps down that path, to see what the outcome looked like, before sending in the troops.

              "When Siddhartha has a goal, he does nothing. He thinks. He waits. He fasts. He goes through life like a stone through water."

              by erratic on Tue Dec 07, 2010 at 05:09:05 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Originally (0+ / 0-)

                it was defeat the Taliban and AQ, I still think that's the goal.

                And despite those who will disagree with me, it was and is a noble one.

                Problem is, Bush was and is an idiot and his Iraq folly screwed it up. And thus our window of opportunity to do some good there and have a concrete good result was pissed away.

                I think the goal is fine, my problem is that Shrub made the means to get there almost impossible now and we are left with a rock and hard place situation.

  •  It is very helpful (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cotterperson, erratic

    ...to read the cables in chronological order to determine what is going on.

    Reacting to headlines, or thinking headlines definitive is the classic behavior of the so-called "low information voter".

    The impression I get is that the policy is flexible enough, despite US misgivings, to allow Karzai (not the US) to come to a political agreement with the Taliban.

    Of course Karzai is believed by the US to be financed to the tune of $2 million a year by Iran and India, which is allied with the Northern Alliance, has no interest in Pakistan's domination of Afghanistan through the surrogate of the Taliban.  And for Pakistan, India is still the main enemy.

    Finally, there is an organization that has as members or observers all of the countries contiguous to Afghanistan and all of the major powers in the region.  That organization, promoted by China is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  What the US has to weigh is the cost-benefit of the SCO ensuring the stability of Afghanistan and empowering China in the region over against continued war and financial support of China through borrowing.

    50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

    by TarheelDem on Mon Dec 06, 2010 at 11:16:37 AM PST

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