You had to love the headline the Philadelphia Inquirer put on the jump page of columnist Trudy Rubin's Sunday commentary about word that the Obama administration is hoping to talk with at least some mid-level Taliban leaders about giving up the fight and "coming over" to the "government" side.
"Relax--No deal with Taliban is Imminent," the headline read. "I suggest everyone take a deep breath," Rubin wrote. "The US position toward talks with the Taliban has shifted somewhat, but no deal with top Taliban leaders is imminent, or even likely."
Phew! Thank god for that! Imagine Americans actually sitting down and discussing peace just as we're getting a good war on!
Fortunately, say Rubin and other journalists with good Washington connections (Rubin has for years been a big promoter of Gen. David Petraeus), America is only interested in talking with "low and mid-level Taliban" whom it hopes to "wean away" to our side with offers of jobs and money.
But really, what is the problem with actually negotiating with the real leaders?
It's clear that this talk of limited talking with lower-level Taliban grunts is an act of desperation by a US side that recognizes that it is losing the war. The Taliban are not running from the fight as American forces ramp up with Obama's escalation of troops and mercenaries. They are taking the battle to the US, with coordinated attacks right in Kabul, open firefights with US troops in the field, and increasingly brazen attacks all over the country.
The idea that the US doesn't negotiate with its enemies is one of those stupid "We're Number One!" mantras born of the World War II experience. There, the US and its allies refused to negotiate with the clearly defeated Axis powers. Germany was bombed into ruins and simply overrun by the US and its allies, including the Soviet Union marching from the east. Japan was not allowed to surrender. Its efforts to negotiate a settlement were brushed off by Washington so the US could vaporize two of Japan's cities with its new A-bombs, firebomb Tokyo, and then accept a total surrender.
Since that time, total victory has been the model for American war making, except that of course there have been some big exceptions. The US ended up in a stalemate against North Korea and its ally China, and had to negotiate a cease-fire in place, which continues to this day. And of course in Vietnam, a war the US lost, it ended up having to negotiate its way out before its own forces were overrun.
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The Afghanistan situation would appear to be closer to Vietnam than to Korea. There is no way the country can be divided up into a Taliban sphere and a US puppet-run sphere. First of all, the Taliban have the support of most of the Pashtun ethnic group, which is the largest by far in the country. Second, there is no "government" side--just a bunch of tribal groups and a US puppet regime--hugely corrupt and actually more of a mob than a government, that controls the capital of Kabul and a few other large towns.
The Taliban have already proven that they can defeat a foreign army--the Russians--who had more troops in their fight than the US will have even after Obama's escalation is complete. And they know they are winning.
So it really isn't in our interest to say we won't talk with what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls "the really bad guys" in the Taliban.
Of course we'll talk with them--eventually. We'll have to, so we can extract our troops in an orderly fashion and claim to the American people that we have won "peace with honor." The alternative would be to have to rush them out with the enemy hounding them as they leave, tail between legs.
Look for it. At some point, after enough young Americans have been killed or had their body parts blown off, after the country has spent one or two or three hundred billion dollars on the effort, after an increasingly frustrated military has cranked up the terrorizing and slaughter of innocent Afghanis as much as it can get away with, President Obama or whoever replaces him in the White House in 2012, will have to call for peace talks. Then there will be the inevitable debate for months about the shape of the table, with the US insisting that one side be reserved for the puppet regime of Hamid Karzi, or whatever leader the CIA installs after Karzai is finally assassinated or maneuvered into exile in Switzerland--in order to preserve the illusion that there is an Afghan government side. And finally there will be the announcement of a power-sharing agreement, in which the Taliban will be given half the ministries, and Taliban forces will be merged into the national army.
The remaining US forces (our NATO "allies" will by this point be long gone) will then climb aboard their C-5 and C-17 transports and fly home and, after a brief respite, the Taliban will toss out the old puppet leadership and just take over control of the country.
What is so depressing about all this, is it could all be accomplished right now, with no more killing and being killed.
In fact, it makes so much more sense to do it now. If the US were, at this point, to call for talks with "the bad guys" at the top of the Taliban, it could negotiate a deal that would include carrots in the form of aid and reconstruction that could indeed lure the Taliban away from any global terrorist organizations that might want to seek their allegiance and assistance. It might take a little doing--after all the US has been aggressively trying to kill these very leaders using its ubiquitous Predator drones, and many of them have lost close family members to those drone attacks. But at least there would be the chance of reaching some accommodation that would allow Afghanistan to start to recover from its decades-long nightmare of war and occupation. More war and more killing would merely mean that when the Taliban finally do drive the US out, they will be further embittered, further radicalized, and further filled with vengeance.