Talking Our Way Out of Afghanistan

It’s becoming apparent to the foreign policy wonks in the Obama administration that the goose in Afghanistan is cooked.  Now it’s only a matter of talking themselves into sticking a fork in it.  The “great dilemma of this war,” as the New York Times calls it, is “whether to reconcile with the men who sheltered Osama bin Laden and who still have close ties to al-Qaeda.”  That option is considered to be “rife with political risk at home” which means the neocons and their pals in the right-wing hate chorus will flay Obama alive if he takes it.   

The reconciliation option would also entail making nice with Taliban leader Mohammed Omar, the sleazebag we kicked out of power in 2001 so we could put sleazebag Hamid Karzai in his place.  According to Transparency International, Karzai runs one of the most corrupt governments in the world, second only to Somalia, which, since it doesn’t really have a government, shouldn’t really count.   

Karzai plans to hold a “grand assembly” of Afghan bigwigs to discuss his plan to negotiate with the Taliban.  Omar says secret talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have not taken place, which means they probably have.  The Taliban have previously said they won’t accept any kind of deal with Karzai unless foreign troops leave Afghanistan first, which they (we) almost certainly won’t do.   

But as Gareth Porter of Inter Press Service points out, the crux of negotiations revolves not around whether “the Taliban movement will be participating in the Afghan political system, however, but on whether or not the administration could accept the participation of a specific individual — Mullah Omar — in the political future of Afghanistan.”  

That’s a bit like having suggested that we allow Saddam Hussein to be a minister in Nuri al-Maliki’s Iraqi cabinet.  Well not quite.  Omar wasn’t a pleasant fellow, what with enforcing all that mean old sharia law and not allowing Afghan girls to go to school or vote or anything, but unlike Hussein, he never invaded a neighboring country that we had to go to war with him over.  On the other hand, also unlike Hussein, he did give bin Laden sanctuary to plan the 9/11 attacks.  So letting him back in the power mix is a might big pill to swallow.  

Speaking of big pills to swallow, Hillary Clinton is one of the Obama palace puzzlers who hasn’t been all that hot to trot to cuddle up to Omar.  She’s been in favor of letting rank-and-file Talibani back in the fold and giving them jobs and such, kind of like we were supposed to do with Sunni militants in Iraq but didn’t.  Hillary has been a bigger disaster than Condi Rice and the Titanic combined. She says she’s willing to negotiate with anybody as long as they completely capitulate to America’s terms first, which was the Dick Cheney modus: set preconditions for diplomatic talks that the other guys will never accept, say “See, we tried diplomacy and it didn’t work,” and then blow them to smithereens.  

The only good thing about Hillary being Secretary of State is that it means she doesn’t control foreign policy.  Foreign policy has been dictated by the Department of Defense ever since young Mr. Bush started doing whatever his generals told him as long as it was what he wanted to hear.   

The generals, who once found the idea of letting Omar back in the hen house anathema, are starting to march to a different tune.  Stanley McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, wasn’t keen on negotiating with the Taliban at all at his Senate hearings in June of 2009.  Now he’s listening to a different drummer.   

In late January 2010, when pressured by a reporter to state how far he was willing to bend in order to reach a settlement with the Taliban, McChrystal cautiously answered "any Afghan can play a role if they focus on the future and not the past."  That sounds like a flip-flop to me.  

An ISAF official told Porter that the goal of negotiations is to establish “the conditions under which reconciliation will take place."  It’s worth noting that “reintegration” is the term being used to describe settling with the Talibani polloi, and that “reconciliation” specifically refers to dealing with Taliban “leadership,” aka Omar.  

One can only speculate as to what’s gone on in McChrystal’s sleep deprived and underfed little mind since his Senate hearings and his big media campaign in late 2009 to strong arm Obama into going along with a major escalation in Afghanistan.  It’s likely, though, that he’s grasping for a quick exit plan because he sees there’s no way his pie-in-the-sky counterinsurgency plan is going to work. 

The counterinsurgency doctrine calls for a competent and reasonably honest host nation government and security force, and the Vulcans will reveal themselves and give us matter-antimatter technology before we see either of those things in Afghanistan.

Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.