Nuance in our foreign policy; the difference between a 'militant' and 'extremist'

In an interview given to the New York Times, President Obama thinks it a grand idea to begin to "reconcile" with "some elements" of the Taliban:

President Obama declared in an interview that the United States was not winning the war in Afghanistan and opened the door to a reconciliation process in which the American military would reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban, much as it did with Sunni militias in Iraq.

Mr. Obama pointed to the success in peeling Iraqi insurgents away from more hard-core elements of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a strategy that many credit as much as the increase of American forces with turning the war around in the last two years. “There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani region,” he said, while cautioning that solutions in Afghanistan will be complicated.

No doubt solutions in Afghanistan will be "complicated" - made more so by trying to find a "moderate" Taliban leader to deal with. This is a strategy that has been tried in Pakistan already and I will let you in on a little secret; it has failed spectacularly. Musharraf's deals with extremists in North and South Waziristan came to nothing (except they established the Taliban in those provinces legally) while the recent agreement between the Pakistani government and extremists in Swat to establish Sharia law denotes a surrender on the government's part to extremisim.

But this won't deter Obama from making the old college try:

Asked if the United States was winning in Afghanistan, a war he effectively adopted as his own last month by ordering an additional 17,000 troops sent there, Mr. Obama replied flatly, “No.”

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.

“If you talk to General Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq,” Mr. Obama said.

At the same time, he acknowledged that outreach may not yield the same success. “The situation in Afghanistan is, if anything, more complex,” he said. “You have a less governed region, a history of fierce independence among tribes. Those tribes are multiple and sometimes operate at cross purposes, and so figuring all that out is going to be much more of a challenge.”

Most of the Sunni militants in Iraq who eventually joined the Awakening were Iraqi patriots motivated to get the US out of their country rather than any religious reasons. By definition, the Taliban seeks to install an Islamic state in Afghanistan which means any negotiations with them must start with that goal in mind.

Afghanistan is different than Iraq - everyone agrees with that. And President Karzai has already reached out to some Taliban groups to explore ways to stop the fighting. If he wants to bring the fox in with the hens, that's his business. But why we should help him in this regard escapes me.


In an interview given to the New York Times, President Obama thinks it a grand idea to begin to "reconcile" with "some elements" of the Taliban:

President Obama declared in an interview that the United States was not winning the war in Afghanistan and opened the door to a reconciliation process in which the American military would reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban, much as it did with Sunni militias in Iraq.

Mr. Obama pointed to the success in peeling Iraqi insurgents away from more hard-core elements of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a strategy that many credit as much as the increase of American forces with turning the war around in the last two years. “There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani region,” he said, while cautioning that solutions in Afghanistan will be complicated.

No doubt solutions in Afghanistan will be "complicated" - made more so by trying to find a "moderate" Taliban leader to deal with. This is a strategy that has been tried in Pakistan already and I will let you in on a little secret; it has failed spectacularly. Musharraf's deals with extremists in North and South Waziristan came to nothing (except they established the Taliban in those provinces legally) while the recent agreement between the Pakistani government and extremists in Swat to establish Sharia law denotes a surrender on the government's part to extremisim.

But this won't deter Obama from making the old college try:

Asked if the United States was winning in Afghanistan, a war he effectively adopted as his own last month by ordering an additional 17,000 troops sent there, Mr. Obama replied flatly, “No.”

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.

“If you talk to General Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq,” Mr. Obama said.

At the same time, he acknowledged that outreach may not yield the same success. “The situation in Afghanistan is, if anything, more complex,” he said. “You have a less governed region, a history of fierce independence among tribes. Those tribes are multiple and sometimes operate at cross purposes, and so figuring all that out is going to be much more of a challenge.”

Most of the Sunni militants in Iraq who eventually joined the Awakening were Iraqi patriots motivated to get the US out of their country rather than any religious reasons. By definition, the Taliban seeks to install an Islamic state in Afghanistan which means any negotiations with them must start with that goal in mind.

Afghanistan is different than Iraq - everyone agrees with that. And President Karzai has already reached out to some Taliban groups to explore ways to stop the fighting. If he wants to bring the fox in with the hens, that's his business. But why we should help him in this regard escapes me.