U.S. – Pakistani Negotiations Missing the Key Issues

Washington and Islamabad are doing their respective societies a huge disservice by focusing in their bilateral negotiations on superficial issues such as transit fees for NATO military supplies rather than the core strategic disagreement on which the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is cracking apart. Collapse of the relationship is not inevitable: common ground exists, if the policy-makers can only open their minds to new ways of doing business.

Pakistani-U.S. relations are being sucked into a whirlpool of recriminations over relatively superficial issues, to the harm of both societies. Each side may speak of its own feelings; I will tell you as an American that Americans are angry. Pakistanis say, correctly, that Washington is behaving like a bully. Americans say that Pakistan is playing an immoral double game by working secretly with violent fundamentalists in order to gain influence over Afghanistan.

Each side needs to compromise, but to reach a compromise, each side needs to understand and address the concerns of the other. Pakistan must learn to live with India. Neither the U.S. nor Pakistan should see Afghanistan as a prospective colony. The Pakistani security services need to accept that provoking violent fundamentalism is a bad long-term bet: it scares the U.S. into extremist violence of its own, it harms Afghan society, and it undermines the hopes of all Pakistanis for security and democracy. If Islamabad wants Washington to listen, then Islamabad needs to make a crystal clear argument showing why its support for some radical Afghan factions will not lead to a terrorist attack on the U.S. mainland or a Pakistani-Indian war. That is the rock on which the U.S.-Pakistani alliance is foundering.

Collapse of the relationship is not inevitable: common ground exists, if the policy-makers can only open their minds to new ways of doing business. For Washington, the new way of doing business must be a willingness to move behind the self-defeating focus on military solutions to the radical Islamic political challenge. Frankly, given the problems in Muslim societies across the globe, a bit of political radicalism is the seasoning needed to cook a good political stew. (The same could be said for the U.S., but that is a very different story.) For Islamabad, the new way of doing business is an historic settlement with New Delhi that will free Pakistanis to move beyond the garrison state toward real democracy based on peace with its neighbors. This new approach must include accepting an independent Afghanistan as well as either allowing Waziristan to leave Pakistan or offering Waziristan and the rest of the border regions full participation in Pakistani society and the Pakistani political-economic system with all the implications for autonomy, tax benefits, security, justice, and respect for minority cultural concerns.

Some Americans protest that it is naive to relinquish drone attacks; the dangerously short-sighted mood in the U.S. is to label all Pakistanis as “the enemy.” I suspect the mood in Pakistan is a mirror-image tendency to see all Americans as “the enemy.” I reject these generalizations and instead see as truly naive the assumption that violence is the answer. The enemy is neither “Americans” nor “Pakistanis” but those who choose violence to resolve conflict. The key to a successful dialogue lies not in the details but in focusing on finding a positive-sum compromise that makes the U.S. feel safe, identifies a relatively inclusive political outcome for most if not all Afghan factions, and minimizes Pakistani-Indian proxy conflict in Afghanistan. 

At least, that’s the perspective of one American who finds himself equally frustrated with the negotiating positions of each side. I would be most interested in hearing Pakistani perspectives.


End the Afghan War

Withdraw all Western Troops from Afghanistan Petition | GoPetition

We Americans cannot end the Afghan social conflict, but we can quite probably end the international Afghan war. I say this on the assumption that no significant Afghan party to the conflict wants to carry the fighting to the U.S. To the degree that assumption proves invalid, concerted international police action–which should have been the initial U.S. response to 9/11–will probably suffice. What the U.S. can do is stop pouring fuel on the fire. More, the U.S. can step back, tacitly admitting it lacks the wisdom to run things in Afghanistan, and encourage international Muslim assistance to Afghan society.

Sign the petition, please.

When Does Cover-Up = Treason?

When powerful officials cover up their errors to protect themselves and that cover-up means not just the continuing deaths of both Americans and innocent foreign civilians but the worsening of the long-term situation and the undermining of national security, is there a point at which such a cover-up should be considered a sign of incompetence, a punishable offense, or even treason?

Pentagon is suppressing an unclassified report by a Pentagon investigator just back from Afghanistan that charges, according to its unofficial version published in Rolling Stone:

Senior ranking U.S. military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the U.S. Congress and American people in regards to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognizable. This deception has damaged America’s credibility among both our allies and enemies, severely limiting our ability to reach a political solution to the war in Afghanistan…. 

the situation demonstrates a growing and expanding willingness on the part of our country’s senior military leaders to use “Information Operations” even on domestic audiences to manipulate the system in order to get what they want….

Without a change in our strategy in the field and a return to honest and frank public statements by our leaders, the likelihood of the United States Armed Forces suffering an eventual defeat in Afghanistan is very high.

Little wonder the Pentagon is suppressing this historic expose of Obama’s misguided war: no sin is worse in Washington than embarrassing the big guys. My question is this:

How serious does a cover-up have to be for it to be considered treason?

Emergence of a Joint Russian-Chinese Strategic Vision

Washington clearly lacks the wisdom to manage a “war on drugs” or a “war on terror” or a “war for democracy” in a Muslim society. A more counter-productive effort in world affairs would be hard to find. But if Washington exits Afghanistan without leaving a process of effectively addressing the drug problem in place, then some very nasty scenarios that are hardly imagined today may become highly possible.

What one day is an entirely defensive effort to combat the international trade in illegal narcotics can another day seamlessly morph into an aggressive military alliance. Some today in the West may find it easy to sneer at the strategic military potential of the so-far timid and disunited Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but illegal narcotics are providing a strong rationale for SCO’s members to cooperate militarily, and there’s plenty of talk in Russian media about the drug threat, which is killing 100,000 Russians a year.
Consider the context:
  1. Afghanistan is NATO-occupied, so responsibility for the flood of illegal narcotics poisoning the societies of Russia and the rest of the SCO member states lies at NATO’s door;
  2. the Western campaign in Afghanistan is failing;
  3. U.S.-Pakistani relations are in trouble;
  4. Narcotics and terror not only are linked but are so portrayed in Russian media.
In this context, the long-term trend in Russian-Pakistani ties merits watching. Russian “drug tsar” Victor Ivanov recently lauded rising Russian-Pakistani anti-drug cooperation:

Антинаркотическое сотрудничество России и Пакистана активно развивается. Взаимодействие двух стран “перешло в доверительную фазу”. [Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia) 3/29/12.]

His claim that “mutual trust” has been established should focus Washington minds. Moscow has been encouraging Islamabad’s interest in joining the SCO for some time. Are Washington’s abuses of its special relationship with Islamabad making Russia’s more delicate approach seem attractive? It certainly will if rumors of Russian financial supportfor the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline that Washington so bitterly opposes come true.
Like Pakistan, Iran has observer status in the SCO, but Iran seems too hot to handle, given its current self-defeating policy of nuclear ambiguity. Given Washington’s own endlessly hardline stance, however, a slightly more sophisticated Iranian nuclear policy might open SCO’s door. What if SCO officially offered Iran one of the obvious potential nuclear deals that Washington so carefully evades, e.g., end to sanctions, financing of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, defensive ground-to-air missiles, full membership in SCO, and the explicit right to refine medical-grade uranium in return for the “permanent human monitoring” of Iran’s nuclear project that Larijani has already offered? The next Nobel Peace Prize might go to Putin, and the SCO might discover its strategic mission.
But there’s more. Even NATO member Turkey is glancing toward SCO. To the degree that SCO constitutes no more than a local effort to support global stability, everyone could join, but in the context of a need to replace a failing U.S. power center in Central Asia and in the context of a backward-looking Washington rejecting Ankara’s self-portrayal as leader of Mideast moderates, a SCO deal with Iran that takes the nuclear issue off center-stage might confer significant momentum to Ankara’s delicate winks in SCO’s direction.

В рамках ШОС, Турция будет стремиться к поддержке своей роли лидера региона Ближнего и Среднего Востока, опираясь на дружественные и родственные отношения с тюркскими и исламскими государствами. Россия поддержала заявку Турции на получение статуса партнера по диалогу в ШОС. [Panarin.com.]

If Washington continues tripping over its own feet, as it has now for 15 years, while Moscow and Beijing creep forward through the diplomatic bushes, it becomes easier and easier to imagine the SCO picking up some of the slack. Beijing and Moscow will have to find common strategic ground, but Washington’s continuing obsession with pleasing Israel’s extreme right will make that easy, especially if Iran can smooth the rough edges off its foreign policy. A SCO with a strategic vision plus the membership of both Pakistan and Iran would be an entirely different animal than it is today, a sleek bear sporting dragon wings. If the reversal of trends as the U.S. presence in Central Asia is replaced by a joint Russian and Chinese presence occurs in the context of a bungled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that leaves behind a virulent drug mafia, then SCO would have a legitimate strategic purpose: the flying bear might start breathing fire. Given that, how hard would it be for Russian and Chinese strategic thinkers to justify…well, a “war on terror,” and how easily might such a war come to generate the same horrors that the Bush-Cheney war did?
Further Reading:

Defeating Ourselves in Afghanistan

Long-time author and reporter on the Afghan debacle of the last generation Steve Coll describes a collapsing U.S. Afghan policy that is also “destabilizing” Pakistan and is seen by the Pakistani military (not to mention himself) as imperiled because “the logic chain of the American military campaign is broken.” [The New Yorker 3/29/12.] Too focused on short-term advantage and, more seriously, benefit specifically of American and allied elites rather than the populations of either Afghanistan or America, Washington’s policy all too often amounts to lifting rocks only to drop them on its own feet. Afghanistan is just the most recent example in a long line of making the same mistake over and over.

U.S. policy toward the Muslim world is manifestly ineffective. The particular locus of crisis moves around, but the bottom line is the same: harsh military repression combined with long-standing background economic policies that support client regimes while undermining popular economic development jointly provoke fully justified anti-American feeling. The U.S. needs a new grand strategy, a real strategy thoughtfully constructed of an incremental series of mutually supporting and logically consistent steps that build on each other to create a political atmosphere in which momentum builds toward an outcome of benefit to both Muslim and American societies, rather than focusing exclusively on elites. 

Elites of course prefer padding their own pockets, but the price (albeit one paid primarily by the populations) is recurrent instability, including terrorism and wars. To a degree, current U.S. policy does already have “an incremental series of mutually supportive and logically consistent” components, though one should not push the ‘logically consistent’ part too far, but the real problem is that these components rest on a zero-sum foundation. That may be the tried and true historical foundation for great power politics, but the world has changed. Events from 9/11 to the 2007 financial crisis to the horrifying years of the Iraqi insurgency should suffice to demonstrate how outdated and self-defeating the old zero-sum policy of force has become. As columnist and strategic thinker William Pfaff put it:

The United States’ millenarian notions of a national destiny and the militarism that has infected American society have been responsible for a series of wars from which Washington has gained little or nothing, and suffered a great deal, while contributing enormously to the misfortune of others. [“Manufacturing Insecurity,” Foreign Affairs 11-12/10, 140.]

One can obviously make a strong moral argument for positive-sum policy, but that is not needed; even from the perspective of pure self-interest, zero-sum foreign policy in a tightly interdependent world is a self-defeating proposition. The most effective way to achieve a more rational and stable situation is by designing a positive-sum strategy while keeping one’s gun in one’s holster. (Everyone knows the gun is there.) Even if U.S. policy were perfectly logical, with all moves fully consistent, a policy based on a zero-sum foundation that considers force the conflict resolution method of choice is in today’s world a non-starter.

The Peace Candidate on Washington’s Afghan War

It was a waste, there’s not gonna be a happy ending, and I think the Republicans have dug a hole for themselves because they’re trying to out-militarize the president, say ‘we should do more.’ Yet 75 percent of the American people say ‘we’ve had enough.’ [Ron Paul on Face the Nation.]

But as the whole decade-long Afghan war demonstrates, U.S. policy toward the Muslim world is far from logically consistent. The Pakistani-Afghan theater of the broader U.S. confrontation with politically active Islam is a case study in mutually contradictory, self-defeating policies based on a zero-sum view of the world that comes dangerously close to defining the world’s one billion Muslims as “the enemy.” Washington seeks military victory but it is precisely its use of military force to resolve political, cultural, and economic disagreements that breeds hostility. Washington wants Pakistan’s support while seeking to deny it desperately needed Iranian gas imports. Washington provides nuclear technology to India, thus aggravating Islamabad insecurity and contradicting its policy of opposing Iran’s nuclear program. And the rising prospect of a U.S. military retreat from Afghanistan seems increasingly to look, in Washington’s eyes, like defeat rather than transformation from a vigorous but short-sighted military policy to a vigorous but long-term policy of encouraging politically-active, reformist, independent Islamic stabilization and development. 

Grand Strategy

Grand strategy is composed of a coordinated set of policies. Faced with Hitler or Attila, one naturally turns to violence because destruction appears the only alternative. Fortunately, no such threat is even remotely visible on the political horizon, so the U.S. has choices. Counterintuitively, however, the U.S. has restricted itself since 9/11 (with the exception of some fine words, e.g., in Cairo) to a grand strategy of military empire, arbitrarily denying to itself a range of powerful foreign policy tools that, in the hands of a skillful superpower, can have impressive effectiveness.

The ineffectiveness of brute military force for creating a new world of long-term benefit to American society has in barely a decade been made glaringly clear. Iraq and Lebanon are in Iran’s orbit, Somalia a basket case, Afghanistan a looming U.S. defeat, and Pakistan a crisis very visible on the horizon. Turkey is alienated, and Israeli democracy under domestic attack. The U.S. should seize the opportunity to come up with a more effective grand strategy than the combination of invasion, drone bombings, and blatant military threats backing up economic sanctions to force adversaries to surrender in return for the right to kneel at the “negotiating” table. [“Grand Strategy.”]

A policy of support for independent, reformist Islamic political  activism would not be a policy leading to U.S. empire or U.S. control over local resources or U.S. military bases for dominating Central Asia, but it might be a policy consistent with U.S. security and with a reasonable probability of being effectively implemented. 

American Terrorist

This single act of terrorism by an American in uniform representing his whole nation overseas raises fundamental questions about the moral nature of American society. We need answers.

The terrorist attack on innocent Afghani villagers by a U.S. soldier raises some questions that need public answers:

  • How could a soldier at an army base have left unnoticed in the middle of the night?
  • How could he get out with a weapon?
  • How could he have taken gasoline with him without a vehicle?

From these obvious and innocent questions arise some more unsettling questions:

  • How could U.S. soldiers plan and execute a terrorist attack without anyone else knowing about it? 
  • How many other soldiers knew about this?
  • How many kept silent?
  • How many officers knew?
  • Is this another My Lai coverup?
“The problem that we face in Iraq is that policymakers in leadership have set a precedent of lawlessness where we don’t abide by the rule of law, we don’t respect international treaties, so when that atmosphere exists it lends itself to criminal activity,” argues former U.S. Army Sergeant Logan Laituri, who served a tour in Iraq from 2004 to 2005 before being discharged as a conscientious objector. [Alternet.]

Further Developments
History of Abuse Pentagon Failed to Address
Planned Revenge by U.S. Soldiers?

Explaining Afghanistan

Is the U.S. really in Afghanistan to help the Afghanis? Is this a pipeline war rather than a “war on terror?”

Kathy Kelly from Voices for Creative Nonviolence has this to say:

…why is the United States in Afghanistan? I believe that the United States knows that it can’t go after China or Russia, but they want to be able to continue a cold war and have a leg up on China by being able to control the pricing and the flow of resources that would course through Afghanistan. And for this reason, the United States wants to secure its bases, its forward operating bases, its prisons, and what will become an even larger embassy than the one that was built in Baghdad. And meanwhile, the United States public is poorly informed. [Democracy Now 3/12/12.]

It’s not just about Russia and China. The “Iran factor” also looms large:

More than half of Pakistan’s manufacturers use natural gas to power their factories, and no other country relies as heavily on natural gas to fuel its cars, buses and trucks. About 21% of the country’s vehicles run on compressed natural gas.Yet Pakistan produces only 30% of the natural gas it needs. Neighboring Iran, meanwhile, has the world’s second-largest natural gas reserves, topped only by Russia. The proposed 1,300-mile pipeline would deliver to Pakistan more than 750 million cubic feet of gas per day from Iran’s South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. has touted an alternative pipeline project that would transport natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and into Pakistan and India. But with Afghanistan mired in a 10-year-old war with Taliban insurgents, experts in Pakistan doubt that pipeline will ever be built. [LA Times 3/8/12.]

Islamabad now officially supports both pipelines, i.e., “We will work with Iran; Washington, if you want to build us a second pipeline, go for it!”
Endless slaughter of civilians for an oil pipeline that will surely get built, since it only will go a few hundred miles in some of the world’s most mountainous terrain, where the locals love us more every day. Or, Washington could cut a deal with Iran, supporting its desire to strengthen economic ties with a U.S. ally that desperately needs a reliable source of energy. But no. That would be too logical. Instead, let’s anger both Iran and Pakistan simultaneously and, to protect our still non-existent pipeline, launch another Afghan surge!

Global War By the Rich: Afghan Chapter

Lies about the reasons for invading other countries that pose no direct or immediate threat to the U.S.; lies about your mortgage, which was sold to you on false pretenses after which the mortgage was sold, the paperwork was “lost,” and the new bank then defrauded you; lies about kissing up to a violence-prone, right-wing faction of expansionists in Israel and pretending they represent the interests of the Israeli people (much less of the American people); and now…according to a U.S. Army Colonel just back from Afghanistan, lies about the Afghan war. Say whatever you want; this is a free country: just don’t call this class warfare. Does anyone see a pattern here?

 Truth, lies and Afghanistan 
How military leaders have let us down 

 I spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. My duties with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force took me into every significant area where our soldiers engage the enemy. Over the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces….

I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level….

If Americans were able to compare the public statements many of our leaders have made with classified data, this credibility gulf would be immediately observable…. When it comes to deciding what matters are worth plunging our nation into war and which are not, our senior leaders owe it to the nation and to the uniformed members to be candid — graphically, if necessary — in telling them what’s at stake and how expensive potential success is likely to be. U.S. citizens and their elected representatives can decide if the risk to blood and treasure is worth it.

Likewise when having to decide whether to continue a war, alter its aims or to close off a campaign that cannot be won at an acceptable price, our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose. That is the very essence of civilian control of the military. The American people deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years. Simply telling the truth would be a good start.

This article deserves to be read very carefully – all of the message is in between the lines. As an active military officer, the author is subject to censorship and stated clearly that if you want the details, you will have to read his not yet declassified full report to Congress. Given that this is an election year, Washington officials are having a hard time determining whether or not you, good citizen, need to know. Read between the lines.
Lt. Col. Daniel Davis has almost certainly destroyed his career by doing this service to his nation of trying to hint at the ugly truth about the U.S. military catastrophe in Afghanistan. Here we have the tip of the catastrophic (unless you are part of the 1%, which has profited almost beyond imagination) iceberg of the so-called “war on terror.” [For example, the salary of the CEO of sole-source war profiteer Halliburton was $42M just before the collapse of Wall Street.]
The good news is that Lt. Col. Davis received permission to publish, so evidently there are some in the Pentagon who still have good intentions. Now let’s see how many politicians react responsibly to this whistleblowing.

And Next Door in Pakistan…

Here’s one little anecdote about the war against Islamic radicalism next door in Pakistan: as noted by the Long War Journal, the other day the U.S. launched its sixth attack since 2008 on the same Pakistani village. Now, doesn’t that just make you proud of your military and the political leadership directing it in the still very hot global war on…villages?


Obama: Secondrate Neo-Con or Master of Change?

Could Obama save his presidency by walking the talk, by–like Clark Kent–actually shedding his neo-con suit so we can see his Master of Change cloak?
If we accept the contentious viewpoint that “10 years is enough”—i.e., that 10 years of neo-con policy in Washington is enough, then what should Obama do to save his presidency?
Well, he could start a war, but that approach is getting a little old.
He could apologize for talking liberal and admit that he really, deep down just wants to be accepted into the Washington elite of financiers who visit the Potomac to pass laws for their personal convenience and imperialists who attack or otherwise subvert oil exporting countries for their personal profit, but that would just make him look like Palin, except less pretty.
He has, fortunately, another choice. He could become the Master of Change:
  1. Govern for Change, not to Make Neo-Cons Feel Good. Apologize for talking reform while walking elite, for being so naïve as to imagine that if he kissed up to neo-con policies that the Republicans would then be so kind as to support a moderate effort to clean up the neo-con mess in foreign policy, health care policy, environmental policy, and economic policy. Having said this, Obama could then state that he would, in his remaining two years, govern for the majority (that is not 60 Senators, but 51, assuming he is lucky enough to retain 51), then focus on proposing real reforms. Invite patriotic Republicans to work with him and ignore the rest. If Congress will not pass them, then he can blame the Republicans for preventing reform and go into the election with a clear record. But…what reforms?
  2. Bail Out People, Not Corporations. Remove all appointed officials from the financial sector if they previously worked in Wall Street. Instead, appoint a mix of academics who have NOT made millions advising Big Finance, government reformers (there are several whose names we know well now in Washington, more and more are emerging at the level of state prosecutors), and perhaps some small-town honest bankers who have carefully avoided the various Wall Street scams of recent years. Then, Obama should direct his new team to:
    1. Scrutinize what Big Finance has done with its bailout;
    2. Bring charges against any CEO’s who hid evidence from investors or regulators;
    3. Redirect policy away from bailing out the rich to funding the reconstruction of America;
    4. Propose clear legislation forcing mortgage companies to prove they hold the paper before they pressure a house-owner toward foreclosure;
    5. Bring serious criminal charges against any mortgage company & banking officials who may be guilty of mistreating those facing foreclosure.
  3. Heath Care As a Right, Not a Business. Announce the principle of socialized health care, explaining in a speech lasting no more than five minutes, that “socialized” means “for society” and that health care is henceforth to be considered a natural right of all Americans. Challenge the industry to come up with an acceptable private plan within 60 days to avoid direct government competition.
  4. Compromise With Iran. Quietly (OK – maybe he already has; I would be the last to know) invite Tehran to sit down to discuss a coordinated effort to resolve both the Iraq and Afghan situations. Separately, announce that U.S. military officials in the field have been authorized to shoot down any aerial force crossing the Persian Gulf in either direction for aggressive purposes. Strongly condemn any American or allied figure that threatens nuclear aggression against Iran.
  5. Support Democracy, Not Imperialism in the Levant. Noisily open all channels to the Israeli intellectual community to stimulate the Israeli “left,” for want of a better word, to devise a solution that frees the Palestinians and solidifies Israeli democracy. Announce that the Hamas policy of trying to participate in electoral politics (which they did at the invitation of both Israel and the U.S. in 2006) and trying to limit rocket attacks even in the face of continuing Israeli military pressure against Gaza justifies both removing Hamas from the terrorist list and opening talks with Hamas. Send the U.S. Navy to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
  6. Punish Environmental Crime. End all off-shore drilling until safe technology can be developed, start telling the truth about BP’s pre-oil gusher and post-oil gusher behavior and bring charges against guilty officials.
They say humans can remember plus-or-minus 7 points. Try these six, Mr. President, and maybe enough voters will remember to reelect you.

Talking With Adversaries

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If the Taliban are ready to talk, Washington should listen carefully, ponder deeply, consult widely, and edge cautiously toward the door. Afghans may love their country, but it is no place for Americans. Try not to step on the flowers as you leave.
With actual talks (cover the ears of the womenfolk!) apparently starting between the Taliban (agent, or apparently so it would appear to some of the originals of the American frontier, of the devil) and the representatives of globalization/capitalism/U.S.-style middle-class capitalism/imperialism, I overheard on the radio a commentary denouncing the very idea of compromise. Evidently, though the speaker did not put it in so many words, there could not possibly, in the minds of the rational, be any room whatsoever for tolerating the concept of the world’s last superpower reasoning together with the people who actually live in the land where the U.S. military is waging war.
To avoid the issue of why Washington should not talk to people who actually live on the ground it marches across, the speaker hastened to make the bald and unsubstantiated claim that bin Laden was leader of the Taliban. It is certainly true that U.S. behavior has been pushing al Qua’ida and the Taliban into each other’s arms over the last decade, but flatly to assert that a local dissident movement and a global terrorist organization constitute a single organization is, to put it very politely, dangerously misleading. Even the speaker felt forced to admit that the Taliban was factionalized, only to slide over that admission and reach a conclusion he himself had just undermined: that no hope of compromise or progress could possibly come from talking.
Note that this speaker, evidently one of those provincials now striding so brashly across the American political landscape who puts all his faith in force as the way to solve problems, evidently believed that it was precisely the tendency of the Taliban to rely on force that made talking with them so useless.  The sad thing is that in the aftermath of a decade of being taught that Americans speak the language of force, the American provincial may understand the Afghan provincials better than I wish to admit.
So not for an instant do I anticipate either an easy chat nor a U.S. victory out of negotiations with the Taliban. But the course the U.S. has been on since 9/11, a course as yet unchanged by that Champion of Change now in the White House, is one of destruction abroad and decline at home leading into a dense fog through which I can see the shimmering vision of helicopters lifting from embassy rooftops. Spare me; once in a lifetime is enough.
The Taliban is a complex and ever-adapting group of more-or-less united local factions stuck in cooperation with an international millenarian movement. Not only has significant evidence of discord between Afghans and Arabs come to view over the years, but the logic of the situation suggests that many will find it in their interest to walk through doors should the U.S. decide to open them.
Talking will admittedly accomplish little on its own. Washington will have to bite some bullets ahead of time and temper its hubris with wisdom. The issue is not what Washington wants from the Taliban but what Washington is willing to concede, and that surely will have to start with that which most firmly pushes the Taliban into al Qua’ida’s embrace: the presence of U.S. forces on Afghan soil.
Speaking only the language of force is like voluntarily tying one arm behind one’s back at the start of a wrestling match. American provincials and American imperialists who advocate such an approach are doing their country no favor. Negotiations are explorations or, if you prefer, poker matches. Tehran’s presence at Western discussions about Afghanistan just put a new card in Obama’s hand. Now the apparent new willingness of senior Taliban officials to talk puts another card in his hand. There will be no results by election day or even by Christmas. It does not matter. Let Obama play his hand with care. And that is as far as the poker analogy goes, because this is not about “winning,” it’s not about a war of religions, it’s not about establishing American Empire whatever the provincials or imperialists may think. This is about finding two paths, one that Americans can travel and one that Afghans can travel.