Without announcement, the CIA stopped carrying out drone strikes in Pakistan seven weeks ago. European allies are already endorsing peace talks with the Taliban. The president is signaling a prisoner transfer from Guantanamo to Afghanistan. The Muslim Brotherhood’s chief jurist, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, has agreed to mediate negotiations.
The president’s detractors on the left will declare none of this to be meaningful at all, because the president is the same as Bush if not worse. Yet that last bullet point point about al-Qaradawi has National Review Chief Islamophobe Andrew McCarthy hysterically declaring “the surrender is complete now” in Afghanistan.
Of course, in the neocon world ‘success’ in Afghanistan is measured by the continued presence of many tens of thousands of troops, their continued deaths in roadside bombings and combat, and the unending carnage of war. Rather than recruit a mediator with credibility among the jihadis, the president (they think) should send John Bolton’s mustache of doom because (of course) all Muslims are the same, even when they’re not.
Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests. If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us. So there’s a dual track here:
One, continue to keep the pressure on al Qaeda and continue to diminish them. Two, put the government in a position where they can be strong enough that they can negotiate with and not be overthrown by the Taliban. And at the same time try to get the Taliban to move in the direction to see to it that they, through reconciliation, commit not to be engaged with al Qaeda or any other organization that they would harbor to do damage to us and our allies.
In the lefty ‘sphere, it is popular to say the president stands to the right of John Bolton on Afghanistan. Such caricatures are easy: combat is combat, after all. As long as America’s war in Afghanistan and Pakistan continued, it has been easy to demagogue as ‘more of the same.’ But what will these voices say if peace breaks out? Because both caricatures cannot be true at the same time, but they can both be false.
To President Obama, success in Afghanistan is measured in timely withdrawal without Afghanistan collapsing in America’s wake. It is just possible that he is succeeding, and it may drive his detractors on both sides insane. Afghanistan should not have been Obama’s war, but he may wind up very glad to have them call it his.