Talking To The Enemy

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Should the United States negotiate directly with the Taliban in order to bring about an end to the war in Afghanistan?

More to the point: is it even possible to do so and be successful?

The answer to the first question was given by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates when he confirmed that the US had already established “preliminary contacts” with the Taliban in order to facilitate negotiations. The talks, thought to have been initiated at the beginning of this year, parallel the ongoing talks with the Taliban that are being conducted by the Karzai government.

As for answering the second question, almost all observers believe it is impossible to negotiate with Mullah Omar and “Taliban Central,” but that there might be a chance for success engaging local Taliban groups in order to convince them to lay down their arms.

But perhaps the ultimate question that needs to be asked is: should we even be negotiating with a terrorist enemy? The thought of holding talks with the Taliban angers some of our troops, and some proponents of our mission in Afghanistan believe that it is premature at best to be thinking of negotiating an exit from Afghanistan.

What is driving the urge to negotiate? Clearly, the administration wants most of America’s 150,000 troops out of Afghanistan, or scheduled to leave, by Election Day in 2012. The war has become a political millstone and could become an issue in the campaign if progress toward an American exit can’t be demonstrated by the president. And the quickest way to achieve that goal is to broker a power sharing deal between the Taliban and the government of Hamid Karzai that would obviate the need for US combat troops.

The obstacles to successful negotiations are many and daunting:

1. Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership will never compromise

Michael O’Hanlon from the Brookings Institution puts it succinctly: “[T]he problem is that [the Taliban] leadership is not likely to do a deal because these are pretty hard-core ideologues and there’s really no evidence [that they’re willing to compromise]…it takes two to tango.”

Indeed it does. There also has to be an incentive for Omar to talk because as it stands now, all he has to do is be patient and wait until the US draw-down of troops reaches a point where it would be difficult to stop his fighters from taking over large swaths of the country.

CNN’s terrorism expert Peter Bergen is even more pessimistic. Pointing out that Mullah Omar’s title is “Commander of the Faithful,” Bergen observes that the title means he is not only a commander of the Taliban, but of all Muslims. “This suggests that Mullah Omar is not only a religious fanatic, but also a fanatic with significant delusions of grandeur…Negotiations with religious fanatics who have delusions of grandeur generally do not go well,” writes Bergen.

2. Who are we negotiating with?

If not Mullah Omar, just who is it that we are talking to? Therein lays the biggest obstacle to negotiations.

Talks with the Taliban might be likened to the way the US government negotiated with some Native American tribes in the 19th century. Negotiators would gather 3 or 4 local chiefs together and reach an agreement that was supposed to be observed by an entire tribe. But some tribal groups will be invariably left out of the process and might refuse to go along with the deal, leading to misunderstandings and war.

Something similar faces US and Afghan negotiators when talking to the Taliban. The Telegraph’s diplomatic editor Praveen Swami lists the members of the Taliban with which the Afghan government has held sporadic talks in recent months, pointing out that it is composed of “middle-aged men who have been away from the front line for years.” Swami quotes noted Taliban expert Thomas Ruttig who believes that leadership is changing hands to a “younger, more radical generation of Taliban commanders” who, because they have served in combat recently, carry more influence than any of the Taliban figures with which the Karzai government has talked in the last few years.

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  • Wesley69

    So the US is seeking to negotiate with North Vietnam, hold on, wrong war. The US is seeking to negotiate with the Taliban, who will reimpose Sharia Law on this country, and could decide to become a haven for terrorists again?

    Excuse me, but why did we go into Afghanistan in the first place? To kill Bin Laden and as many al-Queda as possible, and to topple the Taliban government that gave sanctuary to these terrorists.

    We, or should I say, Obama got Bin Laden, but now, we want to toss in the towel, forgetting all the American lives lost and the treasure we have spent in this country, withdrawing troops in time for the 2012 election??? I thought Obama said this was the "good" war???

    I suppose the Obama regime will proclaim victory as Kabul is captured and Afghans, who worked with the US, are massacred as what happened in Vietnam after Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese.

    With Egypt moving into the camp of the Radical Islamists (Muslim Brotherhood) and with Iran poised to acquire a nuclear capability, the Obama regime probably shouldn't talk about foreign policy at all, but talk they will have to.

    And what a well-formulated policy it is: to anger our allies, to appease our enemies and to diminish the power and influence of the United States in the world.

  • mrbean

    Remember the Paris Peace Talks and the promises of the Viet Cong and the NVA – and of course the the promises of the United States to aid South Vietnam. All of them were broken, the worst being the betrayal of the South Vietnamese and Cambodians by the United States post-Watergate Democrats resulting in the deaths of 1.5 million Cambodians in the killing fields and well over 1 million South Vietnamese in the purges and the reeducation camps. What makes this naive Obama adminsitration think that Afghanistan would be any different?

  • tagalog

    I thought the U.S. was at war with the Taliban.

    The way I understand the American way of war is that we close with the enemy and destroy him until he has no will to resist. Negotiation with our enemy suggests that we have not been destroying his will to resist.

    War means we kill our enemy until he surrenders. I can understand the unwillingness to accept the fact that our military exists for the purpose of killing people and blowing things up, and the temptation to use our military as some sort of "hole card" in some sort of political poker game, but our military only has validity to the extent that it kills people and blows things up until our enemy surrenders.

    So if we're not going to use our military to kill people and blow things up, we'd better stop putting our valuable military people in harm's way and negotiate without them. If we aren't going to fight to win, we ought to get out of Afghanistan. Especially when the people who we made leaders want us out. Just get out or fight to win.

    I understand the critique that our military isn't doing very well relating to the leadership and the people in the more hostile valleys and towns. That's because the usual role of our military is to be doing things like firing artillery on areas of resistance, driving tanks through the walls of mud shacks and shooting people who resist them, making people do things so as not to interfere with the military mission, and so on. If our leaders want diplomacy in the valleys and towns, they better start sending diplomats and not soldiers out there.

    • Fred Dawes

      understand one fact the chinese have made deals that is why you will see some real evil acts by this government against out guys in conbat, the way to deal with Little insect inside our government is to remove that insect by any means necessary.

  • BS77

    what is there to negotiate with the Taliban? Afghanistan was recently listed as the WORST nation on earth for women. Under the brutal and barbaric Taliban, women were treated as virtual slaves. Schools were bombed. Women were forbidden to work, attend school or leave their homes….Schools for boys were little more than indoctrination mills. The Taliban murdered anyone who called for reform. THe Taliban ignored international calls for restraint and blew up the enormous Buddhist statues in northern Afghanistan….It is a dismal thing….seeing the Taliban eagerly awaiting the US withdrawal so they can resume putting Afghanistan back into the Dark Ages.

  • UCSPanther

    You cannot negotiate with delusional, ideologically driven people, especially religious fanatics. Plain and simple. Their black-and-white world view prevents them from compromising, and in the case of the Taliban, granting them a position in a power-sharing deal will put them into a position where they could launch a coup d'etat (of which they doubtlessly would make an attempt at) and thus, return Afghanistan to a terrorist-infested Islamic Fundamentalist prison state (albeit ramshackle) like it was before.

  • Viking

    What a slap in the face on those brave troops who lost their lives. How much more can you insult their memories without literally pissing on their graves. An absolute disgrace.

    The whole country is a disaster.

    I don’t know why they even bothered to send in troops in the first place. They should have bombed Kabul into a pile of rubble and liquidated the responsible for 9/11. That’s it.

  • Ghostwriter

    Once again,President Obama is proving himself to be a naive fool. Once the Taliban returns,they'll do the same hideous things they've always done. Why can't President Obama see this?

  • mrbean

    There is a line from the book, "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche" that goes something like "Never settle anything with words that you can settle more effectively with a flamethrower." Negotiating with terrorists or the terrorist supporters is futile and last time I checked there is no shortage of napalm.

  • Fred Dawes

    Yes we need to start understanding we have a war here its called mexico and the third world. my sister kid has been in the Army for 10 years 8 in conbat, ask him and 200,000 other guys, its hopeless becuase of rats like Obama, the army could win in 60 days if it was allowed to kill the rats, but that will never happen, soon we will see real conbat here our political leaders want that and will do anything to kill Americans, ask why 50 percent are from other places and deep down hate this country and its real people.

  • Fred Dawes

    We need to see it for what it is.

  • tagalog

    Yes, it was intended that our military forces engage in something other than death and destruction. Now that a decade has gone by, and it's become humiliatingly obvious what a really crappy idea that was, what's wrong with advocating that our military be the death- and devastation-dealing arm of our government, and that if it isn't going to be doing that, it's best that our military stay out of the equation?

    • Jim_C

      What's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing. I wish it were so.

      But you are advocating sanity and sanity is not a salient characteristic of our leaders at this point. And unfortunately I think a shtload of pork depends on the other, broader definition of what the military does. Mr. Eisenhower continues to be proven correct.

  • Bart Phelps

    Of course, “conflict resolution” and “confidence building” is the jargon employed by the morally neutral political science of modernity. This political science, whose father is Machiavelli, makes no distinction between good regimes and bad regimes.

    Consider this: The Good, the Bad, and the Neutral

  • Stuart Parsons

    How can one negotiate with an organisation that believes itself to be authorised by its god to, in the greater interest of Islam, indulge in taqiyya (lying) and kitman (dissimulation by omission) . In such a situation, how can one place any reliance on what the Taliban say and be sure it will not go back on its word at the first oppotunity ?

    Islam is a total and utter mess. It is a far greater threat to the well-being of mankind than Fascism and Communism ever were.

  • display

    We need to see it for what it is.

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