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October 06, 2010

More Magical Military Thinking on Afghanistan
Posted by Michael Cohen

Finally, it seems we have some potential good news coming out of Afghanistan:

Taliban representatives and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai have begun secret, high-level talks over a negotiated end to the war, according to Afghan and Arab sources.

While emphasizing the preliminary nature of the current discussions, the sources said that for the first time they believe that Taliban representatives are fully authorized to speak for the Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban organization based in Pakistan, and its leader, Mohammad Omar.

"They are very, very serious about finding a way out," one source close to the talks said of the Taliban.

It's impossible to know what to make of this and whether it represents a serious initiative toward reconciliation, but if there is even a kernel of truth in this story - clearly this is a positive development. If the Taliban leadership is in fact interested in some sort of political reconciliation - and not waiting out the US presence - this has to be considered good news for Afghanistan and obviously good news for the United States.

All of which raises the question - what the hell is wrong with the Pentagon:

This is not the right time for reconciliation efforts with the Taliban, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters. More progress was needed with regard to security on the ground, he said."The secretary of defence believes we still need to make more progress with regards to security on the ground. We need to take the fight more aggressively and for a greater duration to the Taliban…," Morrell added.

Excuse me while I repeatedly bang my head against a wall - why, why, why would the Pentagon take this position? If there are indications that the Taliban leadership and the Karzai government are interested in political negotiations - even embryonically - I'm at a complete loss in understanding why any person in the US government would want to throw cold water on it.

If both sides in the conflict believe the time has come for reconciliation . . . isn't that something that we should be encouraging even if just for our own narrow self-interest? And why would the Pentagon believe that more military pressure will necessarily lead to a better political outcome. There is obviously the possibility that it would strengthen Taliban hardliners and paradoxically by weakening the Taliban it might make them less inclined to make a deal in the near-term. The possibility that we've reached some sort of military and political stalemate in which both sides see more reason to talk than to fight (thus making a deal possible) seems to be too difficult a concept for some people at the Pentagon to master.

What's worse, Morrell's words publicly undercut what the Washington Post says is Obama's desire to see the US think more clearly about a political resolution might look like:

U.S. officials depicted a somewhat different progression leading to the same conclusion, insisting that the time for real negotiations has only now arrived. 

"Now, yeah, there's a sense that we mean what we say" when voicing support for a political process, the official said. "The president's view is that we have to do these things at the same time. We can't take the approach that we're just going to be putting our foot on the gas on the military side of things and will get around to the political," he said.

Last month, Obama pressed his national security team to be more specific about what it meant by a political solution, and "reinforced" the need to be working simultaneously on the military and political sides of the equation, the official said.

It's very difficult to see how Morrell's words don't run counter to this and they seem to suggest that the Pentagon believes that the military's foot should remain on the gas - contrary to the president's wishes.

In the end, the Taliban insurgency has reached a point of where it almost certainly cannot be defeated via a military solution. The best hope is a political settlement. If there is any actual momentum toward reaching that goal then the US should clearly be doing everything in its power to encourage such an outcome and certainly not place its judgment above that of the Afghans themselves.

Perhaps this is something that the President could explain to the folks at the Pentagon. 

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When pressed on the titles of the house dour dive surveys, he turns to his computer, and dig the latest statistics on violence in Iraq - only six events to date, compared to about 220 a day back in 2007, which is a proof, he said that his strategy against insurgency-worked once and again.

Afghanistan again

You are right

Very good article,thanks.
Thank you,it is very helpful of me!

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Two observations

"...why, why, why would the Pentagon take this position?"

As to why the Pentagon would take the position that we shouldn't ease up on the application of force -- I would ask how they could possibly take any other position? That's the entire reason for the Pentagon's existence, the application of force to solve problems. Of course the Pentagon is always going to believe that force is the solution. If all you have is a hammer, the whole world starts to look like a nail.

The deeper question is why it even makes sense to talk about the Pentagon having a position on the question of whether or not more or less force is appropriate for Afghanistan right now. Who cares what the Pentagon's position on such questions might be? They're just a hammer, right, just a tool that the civilian govt of this country either uses or sets aside, as it deems force appropriate or not appropriate to solving a given problem...right?

Well, of course not, not as this country is presently governed. We, not just the Pentagon, but the country as a whole, have grown unable to see the outside world as anything but a set of nails that need to be hammered. We have therefore ceded the governance of the foreign policy of this country to the Pentagon. So, yes, the Pentagon has "positions" on matters of state, where it should be the servant and not the master. That's the de facto reality of the imperial system of govt that has replaced our de jure democratic republic.

For a nation which has known war for thousands of years - they have encountered all kinds of enemies. For ten years they fought the Former Soviet Union, now for the same number of years they are fighting the combined might of Western forces. The Afghans know all the strategies, tactic and stratagems. They know war like the back of their hand.

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