Over the weekend, President Obama confirmed what many Get Afghanistan Right bloggers, myself included, have been saying for months: resolving the war in Afghanistan will require negotiating with elements of the Taliban. 17,000 more troops will be "a drop in the bucket," as Andrew Bacevich has said, if the US doesn't engage in regional diplomacy.
Mr. Obama said on the campaign trail last year that the possibility of breaking away some elements of the Taliban "should be explored," an idea also considered by some military leaders. But now he has started a review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan intended to find a new strategy, and he signaled that reconciliation could emerge as an important initiative, mirroring the strategy used by Gen. David H. Petraeus in Iraq.
Granted, the Obama administration has acknowledged that it is far more complicated to reach out to moderate Taliban factions than it was to negotiate with nationalist Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq. Yet the fact that the Obama administration is pursuing this diplomatic strategy at all is a step in the right direction to Rethink Afghanistan. As The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss notes in his must-read piece on the Taliban, we should have been talking with them all along.
Imagine how different things would be if the Bush administration had persuaded the Taliban to hand over Al Qaeda leaders like Osama bin Laden rather than waging a costly, unsuccessful war that continues to fuel a Taliban insurgency, making it that much harder to capture the members of Al Qaeda responsible for 9/11. So kudos to the Obama administration for bringing in Richard Holbrooke and others to facilitate regional diplomacy, but how effective can talking with the Taliban be when our government is committing tens of thousands more troops to occupy Afghanistan for a decade or more?
What's scary to me is that we're seeing the same strategies applied again and again as the administration defers to the same military experts who failed in Afghanistan the first time around and had limited success in Iraq. How does this thinking go? If the surge kind of worked in Iraq, surely it will work in Afghanistan. If Gen. David Petraeus' military outpost strategy was kind of effective in urban parts of Iraq, surely it will achieve the same thing in far more isolated areas of Afghanistan. And if talking to Sunni militias kind of worked, surely we can do something similar with the Taliban while we continue to occupy their country.
The administration won't be able to give a negotiated reconciliation real credence until it gets away from the perverse foreign policy thinking that couples diplomacy with military escalation. Stop listening to the same military experts who have cost our country hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives, and stop giving them promotion after promotion. Tom Engelhardt gets to the heart of this in his discussion about the pervasive hawkishness in Washington. As it becomes clearer the crisis in Afghanistan cannot be solved militarily, then for God's sake, quit trying to solve it militarily! No one wants to eat a carrot after they've been beaten and bloodied by a big stick.