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Team Obama: Afghan Taliban Not a Threat to U.S.

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All hands on deck, Obama Nation. The ship of state is turning.

The New York Times reports:

President Obama's national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States, officials said Wednesday.

This shift means that President Obama will not have to approve General McChrystal's request for 40,000 more troops:

the shift in thinking, outlined by senior administration officials on Wednesday, suggests that the president has been presented with an approach that would not require all of the additional troops that his commanding general in the region has requested.

Finally, the Administration is going to distinguish between the Afghan Taliban, an indigenous Afghan movement with Afghan goals, and Al Qaeda, a global movement with a global agenda of attacking the United States:

"Clearly, Al Qaeda is a threat not only to the U.S. homeland and American interests abroad, but it has a murderous agenda," one senior administration official said in an interview initiated by the White House on Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because the strategy review has not been finished. "We want to destroy its leadership, its infrastructure and its capability."

The official contrasted that with the Afghan Taliban, which the administration has begun to define as an indigenous group that aspires to reclaim territory and rule the country but does not express ambitions of attacking the United States. "When the two are aligned, it's mainly on the tactical front," the official said, noting that Al Qaeda has fewer than 100 fighters in Afghanistan.

The Taliban cannot be removed from Afghanistan, Team Obama says:

The officials argued that while Al Qaeda was a foreign body, the Taliban could not be wholly removed from Afghanistan because they were too ingrained in the country.

As Team Obama shifts, we can expect vicious attacks from Republicans in Congress and sniping from some close to the military and some right-wing pundits.

But here's a key fact: the top official in the Obama Administration who is actually a leading scholar with long experience in Afghanistan is leading the charge against sending more troops.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Administration officials in the Biden camp fear they too could close off the path to a more peaceful resolution of the conflict if 40,000 more troops are sent. They believe most of the Taliban fighters, and some of their leaders, are neither hard-core, violent Islamists nor sympathetic to al Qaeda.

Some are nationalists trying to rid their country of foreigners. Some leaders are willing to flip sides depending on the deals on offer or the momentum on the ground. Many more are simply doing it for the money paid by Taliban leaders.

According to senior administration officials, among those pressing the case most effectively is Barnett Rubin, a top aide to Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special representative to the region.

If you've been reading Juan Cole's blog for some time, you probably know who Barnett Rubin is. Before he joined Holbrooke's team, he blogged at Juan Cole's "sister blog," Informed Comment Global Affairs.

Barnett Rubin actually knows something about Afghanistan. From New York University's website:

Barnett R. Rubin is Director of Studies and Senior Fellow at the Center on International Cooperation of New York University, where he directs the program on the Reconstruction of Afghanistan. He has worked at CIC since July 2000. During 1994-2000 he was Director of the Center for Preventive Action, and Director, Peace and Conflict Studies, at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Rubin was Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for the Study of Central Asia at Columbia University from 1990 to 1996. Previously, he was a Jennings Randolph Peace Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace and Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University.

Dr. Rubin is a Director of Gulestan Ariana Ltd., a private company manufacturing essential oils and related consumer products in Afghanistan. In November-December 2001 he served as special advisor to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, during the negotiations that produced the Bonn Agreement. He advised the United Nations on the drafting of the constitution of Afghanistan, the Afghanistan Compact, and the Afghanistan National Development Strategy.

...

Dr. Rubin is the author of Blood on the Doorstep: the Politics of Preventing Violent Conflict (2002). He is also the author of The Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State Formation and Collapse in the International System (2002; first edition 1995), Calming the Ferghana Valley: Development and Dialogue in the Heart of Central Asia (1999), Stabilizing Nigeria: Sanctions, Incentives, and Support for Civil Society (1998); Post-Soviet Political Order: Conflict and State Building (1998); Cases and Strategies for Preventive Action (1998); Toward Comprehensive Peace in Southeast Europe: Conflict Prevention in the South Balkans (1996), and The Search for Peace in Afghanistan: From Buffer State to Failed State (1995). Dr. Rubin has written numerous articles and book reviews on conflict prevention, state formation, and human rights. His articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, Orbis, Survival, International Affairs, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New York Review of Books.

And apparently Barnett Rubin, a leading scholar on Afghanistan with long experience in the country, is counseling President Obama against sending 40,000 more troops.

Many hoped that in the Obama Administration, actual knowledge about reality would take precedence over ideology. Perhaps this New York Times report suggests that actual knowledge about Afghanistan is about to trump the dogmas of military counterinsurgency theory.

Godspeed, Barney Rubin. From your mouth to Obama's ear.