On New Year’s Eve, we cited news reports that, taken together, suggested that the Obama administration is in the process of negotiating a surrender to the Taliban. An AP report to which we linked said that certain “trust-building measures” were part of the process:
The U.S. outreach this year had progressed to the point that there was active discussion of two steps the Taliban seeks as precursors to negotiations, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Trust-building measures under discussion involve setting up a Taliban headquarters office and the release from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, of about five Afghan prisoners believed affiliated with the Taliban.
Today the Guardian reported that these “trust-building measures” are moving forward: “Taliban leaders held at Guantánamo Bay to be released in peace talks deal.”
The US has agreed in principle to release high-ranking Taliban officials from Guantánamo Bay in return for the Afghan insurgents’ agreement to open a political office for peace negotiations in Qatar, the Guardian has learned.
The releases would be to reciprocate for Tuesday’s announcement from the Taliban that they are prepared to open a political office in Qatar to conduct peace negotiations “with the international community” – the most significant political breakthrough in ten years of the Afghan conflict.
So let’s get this straight: we agree to release key Taliban leaders from Gitmo, and the Taliban “reciprocates” not by releasing the one American they hold hostage, but by agreeing to “open a political office…in Qatar?” Wow, what a sacrifice! So basically, what is happening here is that Barack Obama is begging the Taliban to do business with him.
The Guardian turned to a former Obama adviser on Afghanistan, Vali Nasr, to help explicate the administration’s strategy:
Nasr, now a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said the Taliban announcement on the opening of an office in Qatar was a dramatic breakthrough.
How in the world is the Taliban’s agreement to open an office “a dramatic breakthrough”? Could the Obama administration at least have the decency to let the terrorists manage their own spin, without doing it for them?
“The Qatar office is akin to the Taliban forming a Sinn Féin, a political wing to conduct negotiations,” Nasr said, but added: “The next phase will need concessions on both sides. This doesn’t mean we are now on autopilot to peace.”
Is this really an encouraging precedent? The Taliban is now willing to set up a fictitious “political” arm, in order to satisfy our need to surrender to someone? Pathetic. The Guardian consults another expert, Michael Semple, a former EU envoy in Afghanistan who is now at Harvard. Semple explains the politics of Obama’s apparent surrender:
Semple said he thought the release of a few prisoners from Guantánamo Bay was politically feasible for the Obama administration, even in an election year.
“The prospect of ending a costly war in Afghanistan is sufficiently attractive for the Obama administration to move forward with it,” Semple said.
“Even if all five of these people they release went straight back to Quetta [the Taliban stronghold in Pakistan] to rejoin a fight, it wouldn’t make any real difference.”
Well, that is candid, anyway. Basically, we are being told that the Afghan war is sufficiently unpopular that voters won’t really mind Obama’s surrender. That may well be true, but it is hard to escape the feeling that we are seeing a shameful chapter in our history unfold.
UPDATE: Our friend Tom Joscelyn, one of our foremost experts on terrorism, emails:
Great job on Obama’s ridiculous Afghanistan policy and attempt at negotiations with the Taliban. Just FYI: I’ve profiled the five Taliban commanders who the U.S. is reportedly considering repatriating, or transferring to a third country, to meet the Taliban’s demands. The key fact about the five is that they all have extensive al Qaeda ties. One of the Obama administration’s key goals with respect to talks with the Taliban is to get them to renounce al Qaeda.
I first profiled 4 of the 5 in March 2011 (using declassified documents):
I profiled 4 of the 5 again in December 2011 (this time using leaked documents from Joint Task Force Guantanamo):
And I profiled the 5th Taliban leader (who was just named by the NY Times) today:
At least 2 of the 5 are wanted for war crimes by the UN, by the way. The dossiers of these men do not inspire confidence that they are interested in peace, or could play any constructive role if freed.
As always with the Obama administration, political considerations are everything.