Those who believe that the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan has a good chance to succeed argue, quite plausibly, that we have an overriding advantage — the fact that most Afghans dislike the Taliban and certainly don’t want to be ruled by them. This advantage creates the possibility that ordinary Afghans will rise up and assist us in expelling the Taliban from their towns and villages. This sort of an uprising was instrumental to our success in defeating al Qaeda in Iraq.
President Obama’s “lawyerly” compromise strategy for proceeding in Afghanistan — surge for a while but begin withdrawing in an assigned month — is at odds with leveraging the advantage we accrue from the Taliban’s unpopularity. Ordinary Afghans may dislike the Taliban, but they are not very likely to rise up if they lack confidence that we will be around to help make an insurrection stick.
But an even larger problem is emerging in the form of President Karzaí’s efforts to reach a deal with the Taliban. What’s the point of rising up against the Taliban if the Afghan government is brokering a power-sharing arrangement with that very enemy?
This concern receives powerful voice from Amarullah Saleh, who served as Karzai’s top intelligence official for six years. Saleh argues that Karzai’s push for negotiations with the Taliban is a fatal mistake and a recipe for civil war.
As I understand it, Saleh is particularly focused on Northern Aghanistan and its minority populations. But he insists that his concern goes further, and the problems posed by negotiating with the Taliban would seem to extend to the south, where we are doing most of our fighting. If our chances of succeeding hinge on the population’s fear and loathing of the Taliban, we need to be on the side of a force that steadfastly opposes these terrorists. If the Afghan government no longer represents such a force, it’s not clear to me why Americans should be in harm’s way in Afghanistan.
What does the Obama administration have to say about this? Once again, it adopts a wishy-washy lawyer’s stance. According to the Washington Post, “while U.S. officials have supported Afghan government-led talks in theory, they have watched with apprehension as Karzai has pursued his own peace initiative, seemingly without Western involvement.”
Impressive stuff from Obama.
The real point, I think, is that Obama wants a way out (an “exit ramp” as the administration likes to say). According to the Post, one senior NATO official, though apparently finding no flaw in Saleh’s analysis (he considers Saleh “brilliant”), said that Saleh’s hard-line stance does not offer any path to ending U.S. involvement in the war.
My guess, then, is that Obama is fine with Karzai’s efforts to negotiate with the Taliban. If not, he should unequivocally denounce those efforts. He has not been shy about criticizing Karzai on other matters.
The problem, though, is that Karzai wants a deal with the Taliban because he has lost faith in the willingness and/or ability of the U.S. to defeat that outfit. According to Saleh, Karzai believes that the U.S. and NATO cannot win, and will soon depart. Obama’s criticism of Karzai and last year’s elections is said to add to the Afghan leader’s despair.
In sum, Obama’s lack of resolve has, not surprisingly, produced a lack of resolve in Karzai. Under these circumstances, God only knows where ordinary Afghans are supposed to find their resolve.
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