iOS app Android app More

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman

Posted: October 10, 2008 08:38 AM

General Petraeus: Talks with the Taliban Are Kosher


Remember back when Congress was arguing about Iraq? To hear some people talk at the time, whatever came out of General David Petraeus' mouth was God's Truth. General Petreaus said it. No further argument was necessary.

Listen O Ye Faithful. General Peteraus says negotiations with the Taliban could provide a way to reduce violence in Afghanistan. Reuters reports:

"If there are people who are willing to reconcile (with the government), then that would be a positive step in some of these areas that have actually been spiraling downward," said Petraeus, who will soon take up responsibility for U.S. operations in Afghanistan.
...
Petraeus said negotiations with insurgents willing to consider reconciliation could reduce violence by isolating hard-core militants, which is what occurred in Iraq's Anbar province when Sunni tribesmen joined U.S. forces against al Qaeda.

If General Petraeus can say it, why can't Obama and McCain say it?

Petraeus' remarks didn't explicitly contradict longstanding U.S. policy, which is that it's ok to talk to individual Taliban fighters to induce them to lay down their weapons and support the Afghan government. But invoking "negotiations" and the example of Iraq opens the door to something broader. In Iraq the U.S. did more than talk to individual fighters to induce them to lay down their weapons. It negotiated with groups - not just individuals - in the Sunni Arab insurgency and talked to them about political demands. It made political agreements, and then actually tried to carry out its side of those agreements, like supporting the demands of the Awakening Movement to be integrated into the Iraqi Army. And it pressed for provincial elections in which members of the Awakening Movement are expected to gain seats. Judging from press reports, a lot of the members of the Awakening Movement are not very reconciled to the government of Iraq, nor is the government of Iraq very reconciled to them; nonetheless the U.S. is working to incorporate them into the government.

Petraeus' remarks followed statements by the British government that there will be no military victory, that there should be a political settlement and talks with the Taliban; and news reports that meetings between Afghan government officials and Taliban officials and recently took place in Saudi Arabia. (Subsequent news reports indicated that the "Taliban officials" were actually former Taliban officials who maintain good relations with the Taliban.)

Both Defense Secretary Gates and General Petraeus have responded to these developments by affirming, at least, that some kind of talks with the Taliban would be good. Isn't it reasonable to suggest that the next President of the United States should do so as well? Pundits are starting to clamor that the next President must level with Americans about the depth of the financial crisis. Shouldn't the next President level with Americans about Afghanistan?

Wouldn't it be a step forward if the Presidential candidates would be asked in the next debate to acknowledge these developments and comment on them? If they agree with General Petraeus, that would be something. You can suggest that here:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/involved/afghanreality.html

Here's the most remarkable thing General Petraeus said:

Asked about [the British commander's statement suggesting talks with the Taliban], Petraeus noted that Britain's long experience negotiating with adversaries helped reduce violence in Iraq. "They've sat down with thugs throughout their history, including us in our early days, I suspect," he said.

What General Petraeus seems to be saying here is: "Sure, the Taliban look like thugs to us, just as we looked like thugs to the British in 1789. But the British had to deal with us anyway, just like we've got to deal with the Taliban."

Did our incoming commander in Afghanistan just compare the Taliban to our Founding Fathers? This suggests a broadness of perspective for which I had not previously given him credit. Maybe he should run for Congress.