Talking With The Taliban?
A better element of Obama's interview with the New York Times is a willingness to discuss reconciliation in Afghanistan, including with 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 [...]
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.”
I think that's a mostly correct view of the situation. So far, what outreach has been offered to the Taliban has not been met with really any success. It's more of a theory at this point. We have to figure out if we have a partner in the Afghan government before we start to find colleagues for it. Ultimately, this is part of the overall framework of how we get out of Afghanistan, but I question whether it's all that possible at this point.