Tags: Afghanistan

Special IG Report: Afghans Losing Track of U.S-Provided Weapons


The U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction just released a report revealing that the Afghan military and police forces are doing a poor job of keeping track of the weapons provided to them by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The report by Special Inspector General John F. Sopko
offers a chilling conclusion:

Given the Afghan government’s limited ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, there is a real potential for these weapons to fall into the hands of insurgents, which will pose additional risks to U.S. personnel, the Afghan National Secrity Forces, and Afghan civilians.

As of December 30, 2013, the Pentagon had provided more than 747,000 weapons and auxiliary equipment to the Afghan military and police, valued at approximately $626 million. That sum includes 465,000 small arms — rifles and pistols — and the report concludes that controls over the accountability of small arms provided to the Afghans are insufficient both before and after the weapons are handed over to them.

The Department of Defense uses two weapons-inventory systems, the Security Cooperation Information Portal and the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database (OVERLORD). The two systems are not linked to each other, and the review found missing, duplicate, and incomplete information within both systems.

The report does not offer a reassuring portrait of the Afghan National Police, reporting that the police don’t have an established and reliable system for keeping track of weapons and limited prospects for developing one:

With regard to the ANP, it currently has no standardized or automated system to account for weapons. Per [U.S.] officials, the record accounting system called the “Universal Listing of Transactions for Record Accounting” has been under development since 2010 for ANP depot inventories, but the system has yet to be fielded as of the time of our audit report, and DOD has not determined an implementation date. The ANP instead rely on a combination of hard copy, hand written records, and some Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to maintain inventory records.

According to [U.S.] officials, efforts to develop the capabilities of ANSF personnel to manage the central depots have been hindered by the lack of basic education or skills among ANSF personnel and frequent turnover of Afghan staff.

Auditors from the Inspector General’s office checked the inventories of weapons at four facilities in Afghanistan: the Afghan National Army Kandahar Regional Military Training Center, the Afghan National Police National Supply Depot, the 1st Afghan National Civil Order Police Garrison Facility, and the Afghan National Army Central Supply Depot. The inspectors found satisfactory results at the first three sites, but the total number of weapons ANA Central Supply Depot differed greatly from the available records.

Checking the inventory at the supply depot against the records, the inspector general’s staff found 24 M2 machine guns, four M48 machine guns, and 740 M16 rifles missing from the depot. The inventory also found 80 more M24 sniper rifles than the records indicated should be there, 191 more M48 rifles, and 82 M9 Beretta pistols.

The report also found that the problem of lost weapons is likely to get worse in the coming years. The Afghan National Army and police forces changed the weapons that they use several times in recent years, leading to a surplus. According to the analysis of the inspector general’s office, the Afghan military and police force already have more than 112,000 weapons that exceed their current requirements. Records for disposing of excess weapons are spotty at best.

In a written response to the IG report, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael J. Dumont said he concurred in part, and aimed to communicate the concerns to the Afghan government. But he cautioned that the U.S. has no authority to require the Afghan forces to “perform a 100 percent inventory of small arms transferred to them by DoD” and that “the DoD does not have the authority to recover or destroy Afghan weapons.”

This morning’s release is the latest in a series of reports from the IG office offering a troubling portrait of the U.S. effort to leave a stable Afghan government after its military withdrawal. Other reports have detailed U.S.-provided planes unlikely to be used by the Afghan Air Force, U.S.-built barracks and medical facilities made of particularly flammable materials, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program to promote soybean farming that may not be viable, and a $2.89 million food-processing facility that was never used.

Have you seen this M2 machine gun, and 23 like it?

Tags: Afghanistan

$34 Million USDA Program to Grow Soybeans in Afghanistan ‘May Not Be Viable’


All of what you are about to read is true; this is not a giant promotional scheme for the book.

The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction published a review of its inquiry into the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $34.4 million soybean program in Afghanistan. The American Soybean Association submitted the program proposal and a funding request to USDA. The inspector general’s office report expressed “concerns about the viability of the project and the apparent lack of analysis and planning performed prior to the project’s initiation.”

The report found:

* Scientific research conducted for the UK Department for International Development between 2005 and 2008 concluded that soybeans were inappropriate for conditions and farming practices in northern Afghanistan, where the program was implemented by ASA.

* The ASA did not conduct feasibility studies prior to initiation of the project in 2010.

* USDA provided $34.4 million to ASA despite the lack of prior planning and analysis, and despite evidence that may have put the success of the program in doubt.

* The sustainability of the soybean-processing facility is in serious doubt because Afghan farmers are not cultivating soybeans in sufficient quantity to make it economically viable, nor is there any significant demand for soybean products in Afghanistan.

* The significant problems creating a market for soybean products in Afghanistan should have been expected, since Afghans apparently have never grown or eaten soybeans before.

Inspector General John Sopko wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack:

I understand that Afghanistan’s operating environment poses daunting challenges for reconstruction and development programs, and that any project in the country is bound to meet its fair share of difficulties. However, what is troubling about this particular project is that it appears that many of these problems could reasonably have been foreseen and, therefore, possibly avoided.

He recommended “that USDA thoroughly review the process by which the Food for Progress program evaluates project proposals and makes its final selections.”

Above: Part of your $34 million in tax dollars at work in Afghanistan.

Had I written about this in the book, everyone would have said the novel jumped the shark and became implausible.

Tags: Afghanistan , Government Waste

The EPA Plays a Kardashian Game While Toxic Smoke Burns in Afghanistan


The Environmental Protection Agency, hard at work, as ever: “Just last night, government officials at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water sent out a tweet confirming they’ve achieved C-list status in the game.”

Let’s face it, “C-list celebrity” is a really accurate label for this lame-duck administration. 

Meanwhile, in environmental news on the other side of the world

In May 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $4.4 million contract to construct solid waste management facilities, including two incinerators, at Shindand Airbase, a coalition base located in Herat province in western Afghanistan housing approximately 4,000 U.S. and Afghan military personnel and contractors. At the time of the contract award, Shindand Airbase was primarily using open-air burn pit operations to dispose of its solid waste. In addition to the two U.S. Forces- Afghanistan-operated incinerators, in September 2009 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded an $11 million contract for incinerators at various bases for use by the Afghan military…

A May 2013 U.S. Forces-Afghanistan evaluation found that the Afghan-operated incinerators were in operable condition and the Afghans had been trained and had the proper equipment to operate their incinerators; however, the Afghans did not use them because the burn pits were cheaper to operate.

CENTCOM commented that the Afghans fail to use the incinerators because they do not perceive that the health benefits of using the incinerators are worth the cost of the fuel to run them. Nevertheless, CENTCOM stated that coalition leadership continues to encourage the ANSF to use the incinerators.

Toxic smoke emanating from Afghan burn pits poses a threat to the health of coalition personnel serving with Afghans at Shindand Airbase and will not be confined to the Afghan-controlled side of the base.



Tags: EPA , Afghanistan

America’s Never-Used $2.89 Million Food Processing Facility in Afghanistan


The Pentagon spent $2.89 million to build a food processing facility in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, a project of the Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations. This morning the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction unveiled a review finding that the facility has never been used and is not being maintained.

The report from Inspector General John Sopko says the facility “could have been a success story.” Once a bombed cotton factory site in Helmand province, the aim was to turn the site into a cold and dry storage warehouse and packing facility – allowing the farmers of the province to ship and process their crops and produce and sell to more faraway markets.

The Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations began the project in 2010 and then passed it to the Army Corps of Engineers – hiring a contractor to build one cold storage and one
dry storage warehouse, demolish two existing structures, make road improvements; provide on-site power generation and an electrical distribution system, a new water well and to remove mines and unexploded ordnances from the site.

All of the work presumed that, upon completion, the Afghan government would be able to find a buyer or manage the facility itself.

In May 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the contractor’s finished work — 243 days behind schedule, but up to specifications. The contractor blamed the delays on security concerns, including “threatened and actual Taliban violence, difficulties transporting needed equipment across the border into Afghanistan, and difficulty getting experts on the installation and operation of the facility’s equipment to come to Afghanistan.”

The facility, providing approximately 10,000 square feet of cold storage and 13,000 square feet of dry storage, was transferred to the Afghan government in September 2013.

And then… not much happened.

As the IG report notes, “potential investors told [the Pentagon’s Business and Stability Operations task force] that the Afghan district governor had asked for money from the investors and the construction contractor before leasing the property.”

One potential buyer had his Kabul-based cold storage facility unexpectedly damaged and could not generate the funds to purchase the U.S.-built one. The Afghanistan government says it is still looking for potential buyers.

Helmand Province is one of the world’s biggest sites for opium production and a region that frequently endures fierce fighting between the Taliban and its foes.

In fact, it’s not clear who can get to the facility safely right now.  SIGAR inspectors attempted to visit the Gereshk storage facility on two occasions—January and March 2014; both times International Security Assistance Force denied the request to visit the facility, citing high insurgent activity in the area. The Pentagon, in its written response to the IG report, noted that its own Task Force for Business and Stability Operations personnel “have been unable to travel to the site for more than one year.”

The Inspector General’s report recommends, “before approving future investment projects of any kind, [the Pentagon ensure there “are willing investor(s) capable of assuming ownership of and responsibility for maintaining constructed facilities; or, in the absence of investors, that the Afghan Ministry of Commerce and Interior is willing and able to assume those responsibilities itself.”

Nice-looking facility our tax dollars bought. Shame no one’s using it. 

Tags: Afghanistan

We’re Building Extra-Flammable Barracks for the Afghan Army


More of our tax dollars at work: The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction finds that a significant portion of the U.S.-built buildings for the Afghan military are . . . more flammable than international building codes permit.

The inspector general’s report notes,

In April, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told SIGAR that the decision not to bring all buildings into compliance with [international building codes] will affect 285 buildings, including 83 barracks buildings, four medical clinics, and two fire stations.

Hey, what are the odds of a fire on an Afghan army base, right? It’s not like there’s a chance the Taliban or other warlords will be firing mortars, rockets, and other explosives at them, right?

The justification for the use of a particularly flammable foam is that

the typical occupant populations for these facilities are young, fit Afghan Soldiers and recruits who have the physical ability to make a hasty retreat during a developing situation.

Hopefully, all the patients being treated in those medical clinics will get that memo.

Tags: Afghanistan , Inspector General

IG: Afghans Aren’t Using U.S.-Provided Transport Planes, Don’t Need Another


The independent special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction is warning Pentagon leadership that the Afghan air force doesn’t need all the C-130 transport planes provided by the U.S. in $100 million–plus deal, and is urging the Pentagon to halt the delivery of another one without a detailed review of the policy.

Special Inspector General John F. Sopko writes:

We analyzed flight data for the two AAF C-130s currently in Afghanistan and found that they are being underutilized, which raises questions about whether additional aircraft are truly needed. Lastly, during my visit last month, I was informed about support problems associated with training, spare parts, and maintenance for the two C-130s currently in the inventory.

Sopko’s report states that not delivering a single C-130 could save the U.S. taxpayer up to $40.5 million. The third C-130 is scheduled to be delivered next month.

Are the Afghans really using this plane? If not, do they need another?

The inspector general’s report also states that the Department of Defense has been unable to provide documentation to support its decision to purchase the C-130s, detailing that:

a U.S. Air Force team raised concerns that the C-130 would be too complex and costly for the AAF. Notwithstanding those concerns,on January 4, 2013 the Deputy Secretary of Defense directed the Secretary of the Air Force to provide four C-130s to the AAF — two in 2013 and two by the end of 2014.


The Deputy Secretary of Defense in January 2013 was Ashton Carter. In December of that year, he was replaced by Christine Fox as the acting deputy defense secretary. Previously, she had the director of cost assessment and program evaluation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense — one of the most senior civilian positions at the Pentagon. She’s also known for inspiring Kelly McGillis’s character in Top Gun.

When Fox retired in May, President Obama said:

Last year, she graciously agreed to return to the Department of Defense shortly after she had officially retired in order to ensure that Secretary Hagel and I had the support we needed in a challenging time. She provided steady leadership in the wake of sequester and developed an approach to the budget that puts our military on a path toward restored readiness.

NOTE: This report initially referred to the IG as part of the Pentagon, but it is an independent agency with jurisdiction over any agency doing reconstruction in Afghanistan.

Tags: Afghanistan , Government Waste , President Obama

Two Bergdahl Movies In the Works, And They Both Might Be Good


I don’t subscribe to the belief that Hollywood chooses its war movie subjects strictly for the purpose of demoralizing America and making us look bad. Although you wouldn’t always know from the results, movies are put together largely with the aim of  maximizing dramatic tension. Ethically complex stories will always be dramatically promising for the same reason Hamlet couldn’t make up his mind.

But some things do make you go hmm. There have been fifteen Congressional Medals of Honor awarded in this new century, and yet the soldier who will apparently be featured in two different Hollywood films is Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Variety reports:

Kathryn Bigelow and writer-producer Mark Boal are planning a movie based on recently released U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

The project would be produced through Boal’s recently launched Page 1 production company, backed by Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures.

Separately, Fox Searchlight has acquired movie rights to “America’s Last Prisoner Of War,” written by the late Michael Hastings, with Todd Field (“In The Bedroom”) attached to direct and produce. Hastings’ story was published in 2012 by Rolling Stone while Bergdahl was still a prisoner of the Taliban.

Either or both of these movies could be good. Bigelow has demonstrated over many years her talent for extracting drama from hard men in government service, irrespective of setting (as in the beloved cop/surfer classic Point Break) or even nationality (in the underrated Soviet submarine thriller K-19: The Widowmaker). Todd Field made the critically acclaimed In the Bedroom and the excellent shamesploitation picture Little Children, which featured not only a showstopping comeback performance by seventies icon Jackie Earle Haley but some spectacularly good Will Lyman narration. It’s also notable that the late Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone article on Bergdahl, though it was written two years ago and with no certainty that Bergdahl would ever be released, seems to have held up in just about all of its particulars — which happens less often with news pieces than you might think.

Still, you have to wonder. For the last few weeks there’s been a raging debate over whether Bergdahl was worth the five Taliban prisoners released in exchange for him. Do we now have to argue about whether he’s worth the inevitable millions in film production tax credits the taxpayers of New Mexico will end up paying to make the Land of Enchantment look like Afghanistan?

Tags: Bowe Bergdahl , Afghanistan , Hollywood , Movies

The Coming ‘There’s Nothing We Could Have Done’ Excuses


Sometimes you can see the administration-defending Washington conventional wisdom forming before your very eyes: “The Iraqi government was always weak and destined to collapse sooner or later. There’s nothing the Obama administration could have done.”

Even if, say, they asked for assistance a month ago and we turned them down.

As the threat from Sunni militants in western Iraq escalated last month, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki secretly asked the Obama administration to consider carrying out airstrikes against extremist staging areas, according to Iraqi and American officials.

But Iraq’s appeals for a military response have so far been rebuffed by the White House, which has been reluctant to open a new chapter in a conflict that President Obama has insisted was over when the United States withdrew the last of its forces from Iraq in 2011.

We’ve seen a lot of this “There’s nothing the Obama administration could have done!” thinking recently, and we’ll probably see a lot more of it in the coming years:

Tags: Iraq , Afghanistan , Barack Obama

Former Platoon Mate: ‘Every Single Mission’ Was About Finding Bergdahl


A former medic in Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s platoon fired back Sunday at Obama administration claims that he and other Afghanistan veterans are exaggerating the seriousness of Bergdahl’s disappearance from his post in 2009.  

“Every single mission that we did was focused on finding Bergdahl,” Joshua Cornelison told Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace. “Maybe not every single mission was kicking down a door because we had intel that Bergdahl was there. But we were finding people. We were either finding locals who had said they had information about where Bowe Bergdahl was, or maybe we were just going trying to talk with locals to see if they had information about Bergdahl. But every single mission after Bowe Bergdahl left was tilted toward finding Bowe Bergdahl, every single one.”

Cornelison, who was among the troops required to sign a non-disclosure agreement about the events following Bergdahl’s decision to abandon an operating base in Paktika province, was appearing with Ken Luccioni and Cheryl Brandes, the stepfather and mother of Pfc. Matthew Martinek. Martinek was killed in action during theater-wide efforts to locate Bergdahl, who ended up in Taliban custody and was released last month in exchange for five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo. Obama administration officials have accused soldiers from Bergdahl’s unit of blaming him for the deaths of at least six U.S. service members in the aftermath of his unexplained disappearance.

“I don’t know what certain people want to hear,” Cornelison said. “I was there. Everybody else that we’ve been talking with — there have been six of us primarily — we were there. This isn’t some story we’re making up. We were there for the night Bergdahl left, we were there for the morning when we realized he wasn’t there. We were there for the following 90 days of absolute agony that Bergdahl put us through. This isn’t second- or third-hand reports or accounts. We were there running missions every single day to try and find Bowe Bergdahl.

Tags: Bowe Bergdahl , Afghanistan , Sunday Shows June 8 2014

Mukasey: Obama Broke An Unconstitutional Law


Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey said Sunday President Obama broke a congressional-notification law when he released five Taliban detainees in exchange for captured Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

But Mukasey, the third and final head of President George W. Bush’s Justice Department, said the law itself is an unconstitutional restraint on the president’s authority as head of the armed forces under the U.S. Constitution.

“When the president signed the Defense Authorization Act last year,” host Chris Wallace asked Mukasey on Fox News Sunday, “it contained a provision that the administration must notify Congress not later than 30 days before the transfer or release of a prisoner from Guantanamo. Question: Did the president break the law, or was that requirement an unconstitutional infringement on his executive powers?”

“Yes to both,”  Mukasey replied. “He broke the law, but I believe that the law itself is unconstitutional. Article II makes him the commander in chief of the armed forces. These people were in the custody of the armed forces. It gives him plenary authority to conduct foreign affairs.  And to the extent that that statute purports to restrict his Article II power, I think it’s unconstitutional, and he said so at the time that he signed it.”  

Tags: Bowe Bergdahl , Michael Mukasey , Afghanistan , Sunday Shows June 8 2014

Afghanistan Veteran: ‘Combat’s Actually Fun’


A journalist who served with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan dismissed Thursday the theory that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl may have been pushed over the edge by fighting Islamic totalitarian guerrillas.

“So what was it about the war that particularly threw him off? What was it about battle, what was it about combat that disillusioned him so?” PBS NewsHour anchorwoman Gwen Ifill asked Matt Farwell, a contributor to the late Michael Hastings’s 2012 Rolling Stone story on Bergdahl.

“I don’t think it was necessarily battle or combat, and I don’t know for a fact,” Farwell, who served with the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment in Paktika province in 2006 and 2007, replied. “But I know I was in the exact same area two years prior, as an infantryman. And battle and combat’s actually fun. But the war in Afghanistan was a massive — we would call it a Charlie Foxtrot, if I’m being polite. It was a massive cluster. And we didn’t know what we were doing there, and we still don’t. And that’s why we’re getting out and it’s been the longest war in U.S. history.”

Ifill then fished for service-wide outbreaks of Bergdahl’s alleged state of being “psychologically isolated.” But Farwell noted that unit cohesion is variable and — citing the case of multiple murderer Robert Bales — that soldiers are also variable.

“I can’t necessarily make a case for anyone but myself,” Farwell said, “I had a good time with my platoon mates, and I love them all like brothers.”

The Rolling Stone article depicted Bergdahl, who was released by his Sunni captors last week in exchange for five Guantanamo detainees believed to be valuable Taliban officials, as a committed but unsocial soldier prior to his 2009 disappearance from a base in Paktika.

Tags: Afghanistan , Bowe Bergdahl

The Administration’s Cavalcade of Lies on the Bergdahl Deal Continues


Today I’m off to Los Angeles to appear on this evening’s edition of Real Time with Bill Maher. My co-panelists will be Nicole Wallace, formerly of the McCain-Palin campaign, and some guy you may have heard of by the name of Anthony Weiner. Yes, that Anthony Weiner. You can watch tonight — 7 p.m. Pacific, 10 p.m. Eastern — and I’ll let you know how it went Monday.

A portion of today’s Morning Jolt:

The Administration’s Cavalcade of Lies on the Bergdahl Deal Continues

Oh, I guess we can relax now.

The five senior Taliban leaders released to Qatar after years of detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are subject to strict bans on militant incitement or fundraising that might pose a danger to the United States, according to people familiar with the negotiations that freed American prisoner of war Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

How is this enforced? If these guys begin fundraising or incitement, do the Qataris send them back to us? What about beyond the first year?

Thursday’s big spin:

The Obama administration told senators it didn’t notify Congress about the pending swap of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban officials because of intelligence the Taliban might kill him if the deal was made public.

That fear — not just the stated concerns that Bergdahl’s health might be failing — drove the administration to quickly make the deal to rescue him, bypassing the law that lawmakers be notified when detainees are released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, congressional and administration officials said Thursday.

They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

Many folks closely following this story immediately dismissed that explanation as bull-you-know-what. Why would the Taliban kill their best bargaining chip? Why would they want absolute silence about a deal that they were going to use for propaganda purposes?

Allahpundit noticed problem number one, from the New York Times, May 9, 2012:

The parents of the only American soldier held captive by Afghan insurgents have broken a yearlong silence about the status of their son, abruptly making public that he is a focus of secret negotiations between the Obama administration and the Taliban over a proposed prisoner exchange.

The negotiations, currently stalled, involved a trade of five Taliban prisoners held at the American military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of the Army, who is believed to be held by the militant Haqqani network in the tribal area of Pakistan’s northwest frontier, on the Afghan border.

Then John Sexton noticed this Associated Press report from June 20, 2013, roughly one year ago:

The Taliban proposed a deal in which they would free a U.S. soldier held captive since 2009 in exchange for five of their most senior operatives at Guantanamo Bay, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai eased his opposition Thursday to joining planned peace talks.

The proposal to trade U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for the Taliban detainees was made by senior Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail in response to a question during a phone interview with The Associated Press from the militants’ newly opened political office in Doha, the capital of the Gulf nation of Qatar.

So how the hell could the Taliban be insisting that Washington be silent about the deal when they were literally calling up the Associated Press and telling them about it?

To quote Joey from Friends, . . . “First, you lied. Then, you lied about lying. Then, you lied about lying about lying. So before you lie about lying about lying about lying about lying . . . STOP LYING!”

By the way, just in case you had faith in senators’ ability to remember what they had been told earlier…

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said that administration officials who briefed senators said that “if word of the discussions had leaked out there was a danger that Sgt. Bergdahl would have been killed.”

But other senators, including Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), told reporters that they couldn’t recall officials sharing that information during the briefing presented by officials from the White House, Pentagon, State department and CIA.

Somewhere, Thad Cochran is saying, “And they complain about my memory!”

The strict travel ban will keep them from returning to any active role fighting U.S. forces for at least a year, U.S. officials said. By that time, all U.S. combat forces will be gone from Afghanistan. A small force devoted to training and counterterrorism will remain.

Wait, we’re supposed to be pleased that these guys won’t be actively fighting U.S. forces until this time next year? What do you think happens after that? How long until these guys go after that small force remaining, and/or the Karzai government?

You know this path ends with the Taliban running Afghanistan again, right?

Trust Charles Krauthammer to sum it all up so succinctly:

The swap itself remains, nonetheless, a very close call. I would fully respect a president who rejected the deal as simply too unbalanced. What is impossible to respect is a president who makes this heart-wrenching deal and then does a victory lap in the Rose Garden and has his senior officials declare it a cause for celebration. The ever dutiful, ever clueless Susan Rice hailed it as “an extraordinary day for America.”

Good God. This is no victory. This is a defeat, a concession to a miserable reality, a dirty deal, perhaps necessary as a matter of principle but to be carried out with regret, resignation, even revulsion.

The Rose Garden stunt wasn’t a messaging failure. It’s a category error. The president seems oblivious to the gravity, indeed the very nature, of what he has just done. Which is why a stunned and troubled people are asking themselves what kind of man they have twice chosen to lead them.

Tags: Bowe Bergdahl , Afghanistan , Barack Obama , Angus King

The Obama Administration Needs to Become Reacquainted With the Truth


Also from today’s Jolt — check your spam folder if it didn’t arrive this morning — is this top-to-bottom look at the corrosiveness of the Bergdahl deal decision . . . 

American Government Needs to Become Reacquainted With the Truth

We can’t be governed like this. Shameless lies about life-and-death matters erode the consent of the governed.

The president wants to empty out Guantanamo Bay by the time he leaves office, and perhaps as soon as the end of the year. As the Obama administration sees it, once the war in Afghanistan ends at the end of the year, we don’t have a right to hold our captured Taliban any longer.

You may recall that on the afternoon of September 11, President Bush declared that we would treat those who shelter, support, fund, or feed terrorists the same way we treat terrorists. Throughout his presidency, he repeatedly set a clear standard: “If you harbor terrorists, you are a terrorist; if you train or arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist; if you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you’re a terrorist, and you will be held accountable by the United States and our friends.”

We made a clear offer to the Taliban: Turn over al-Qaeda, or you’re at war with us. Mullah Omar made his choice. (“He chose . . . poorly.”) At no point have they said “uncle” or surrendered. Mullah Omar hasn’t come out of hiding to say, “All right, all right, we won’t shelter al-Qaeda anymore.” In fact, we dropped that demand, if you believe unnamed official sources in the Daily Telegraph:

One official significantly added that a requirement for the Taliban to drop relations with al Qaeda — something which had stymied previous attempts at direct talks — was no longer necessary in order for them to progress.

“We’ve long had a demand on the Taliban that they make a statement that distances themselves from the movement from international terrorism, but made clear that we didn’t expect immediately for them to break ties with al-Qaeda, because that’s an outcome of the negotiation process,” the official said.

We never recognized the Taliban as the legitimate ruler or government of Afghanistan. Yet now we’re talking about returning their guys because our president wants the Afghanistan war to be over. (As someone put it, you can tell whether we won in Afghanistan by the fact that we’re negotiating with the Taliban, the guys we set out to fight.)

And the message is spreading through Afghanistan . . . the bad guys are loose again.

Taliban forces led by Mohammed Fazl swept through this village on the Shomali plain north of Kabul in 1999 in a scorched-earth offensive that prompted some 300,000 people to flee for their lives.

Fifteen years later, local residents here are responding with fear and dismay to the U.S. release of the notorious commander, along with four other Taliban leaders in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war who was held by the Taliban.

Keep in mind, all of these guys are associated with al-Qaeda or attacks against Americans:

In addition to Mr. Fazl, other released detainees also played major roles in the former Taliban regime. Khairullah Khairkhwa, a minister of interior in the former Taliban government, served as the militant group’s liaison to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to a 2008 Pentagon assessment. Noorullah Noori, once a senior Taliban military commander in northern Afghanistan, led Taliban forces against the U.S. and its Northern Alliance allies during the 2001 invasion, according to the Pentagon.

Pentagon assessments describe the two other former prisoners, Mohammed Nabi Omari and Abdul Haq Wasiq, as linked to other Islamic extremist groups, including al-Qaeda.

The president does this in complete contradiction of public opinion.

A prisoner exchange that released U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five top-level Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay has sparked debate over negotiating with terrorists. Fully 84 percent of voters are concerned that making deals with terrorists will encourage those groups to take more American soldiers hostage. That includes a 57-percent majority that is “very” concerned and another 27 percent that is “somewhat” concerned.

Only 15 percent aren’t worried deals like this will put more troops at risk.

Back to Guantanamo Bay. The Obama administration has convinced itself — after the Iraq withdrawal, after the Arab Spring, after the collapse of Syria and the 160,000 dead there, after the Benghazi attacks, after Boston — that somehow if we shut down Guantanamo Bay, that will create a discernible reduction in anti-American attitudes around the world and particularly in the Muslim world.

What’s more, the Obama administration seems to think that by releasing the most dangerous members of the Taliban in custody, they will make the Taliban more peaceful, agreeable, and cooperative:

During the same debate, officials were considering the emerging prisoner-exchange proposal. White House advisers believed that a successful exchange would not only free Bergdahl but would also encourage moderate Taliban members to take an Afghan-led reconciliation process seriously.

The Gitmo prisoners are all members of groups that have pledged to kill Americans, tried to kill Americans, or have actually killed Americans. If an American is convicted of killing another American, they’re sentenced to life in prison or perhaps the death penalty. A lot of folks think Gitmo is pretty cushy considering their former lives in places like Afghanistan.

Obama himself admitted that in the case of these released detainees, there’s “absolutely” a chance that these guys will go back to trying to help their allies kill Americans again. So, to sum up: If these guys stay in Gitmo, there’s no chance they’ll kill an American in the future. If they get released, there is, in the president’s own words, “absolutely” a chance they kill again in the future. Where is the upside for us? What do we, the American people, get out of this deal?

(One caveat: The Qatari government has to know that if any of these five get loose and kill Americans, the outrage from the American public will be volcanic. You have to wonder if the Qataris have some back-pocket “unfortunate car accident” plans if any of these five seem a little too eager to get back to the battlefield.)

Anyway, if Obama were a better president, he would level with all of us, and declare, “I intend to hand off all of the Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign governments by the end of the year.”

Of course, the reaction from the public would be apoplectic, as Obama would be announcing that he would be effectively undoing years of unbelievably difficult work which cost the blood, treasure, and lives of the U.S. military and our intelligence agencies, and putting all kinds of ruthless terrorists in the hands of governments that may or may not be all that diligent about keeping them under control.

Obama doesn’t do that. He tries this deal for these five as a trial balloon. Of course, he doesn’t tell Congress, not even Senator Dianne Feinstein, because she would say no. (Strangely, he appears to have told Senator Harry Reid alone.) He goes ahead and does it, even though the law requires him to give Congress 30 days notice. How long does it take to inform Congress? It requires a few secure phone calls. You could do it in an hour.

Ignoring the legislative branch is pretty bad, although it’s not clear the public will get up in arms about members of Congress being irked they weren’t kept in the loop. But the public can, should, and I suspect will be mad when the administration lies to them. Certainly, members of our military could not abide the administration’s claim that Bergdahl was a hero or Susan Rice’s claim that Bergdahl “served with honor and distinction.”

(Although I suppose being captured by the Taliban is pretty distinctive.)

Charles Lane, usually one of the most sensible non-conservative columnists out there, writes:

Obama made a bit of a fool of himself by treating Bergdahl’s impending return as appropriate for Rose Garden celebration, complete with grateful parents, even though he knew, or easily should have known, that Bergdahl is hardly a hero.

That attempt to gin up an election-year feel-good story fell flat, as did national security adviser Susan Rice’s clueless depiction of Bergdahl’s Army career as one of “honor and distinction.”

White House efforts to glorify Bergdahl were matched by the right’s efforts to demonize him. He stands accused of desertion, which is indeed a very serious offense. Convicting him of it under military law requires proof, which we don’t yet have, that he intended to leave his unit for good or sought to avoid a hazardous assignment.

Okay, but we have nine members of his platoon coming forward and contending he is a deserter. We have some evidence — after all, he went missing! — and we have, at this point, not even a theoretical alternate explanation for his actions. He just went for a walk? Sleepwalking? No gun, vest, or night-vision goggles? Come on, Charles, the circumstantial evidence fits. Of course Bergdahl deserves his day in court. And he’ll get it. But let’s not pretend that these nine other soldiers don’t exist because they’re proving so inconvenient to the administration’s narrative.

Tags: Barack Obama , Bowe Bergdahl , Afghanistan , Guantanamo Bay

Bergdahl Rose Garden Ceremony Was an Insult to Flacks


The Obama administration’s now-defunct effort to turn the release of Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl into a cheerable moment was more than just a failure of ethics. It was a failure of communication, and an outrage to the honorable profession of image management and crisis public relations.

Put aside for a moment the very clear disrespect to both active and former service members implicit in trying to manufacture a feel-good narrative out of Bergdahl’s release by the Haqqani terror network in exchange for five high-value Taliban prisoners.

Suppose that there were valid reasons to require non-disclosure agreements from other soldiers in Bergdahl’s unit. Assume that the value of no longer having an American serviceman held captive by Islamists is so great that it’s worth the risk of such an asymmetrical prisoner exchange.

Even if you put these moral concerns aside, it still made no sense for President Obama to hold a Rose Garden event with Bergdahl’s parents Saturday. The White House had every reason to know this story would blow up.

Suspicions about Bergdahl’s disappearance from his unit on the field of honor were not hard to come by. Ralph Peters called him an “apparent deserter” on Fox News shortly after his capture. A detailed and damning narrative of his disappearance was written up in 2012 by Michael Hastings, a Rolling Stone journalist who died in a suspicious car crash in Los Angeles last year.

Even if there had been no such public speculation — if the masses had no inkling of the apparently low opinion soldiers of the the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, had of Bergdahl — the president himself gets regular briefings and had every reason to understand that the question of his behavior and possible culpability would come out. Presumably members of Bergdahl’s company were questioned by superior officers after his disappearance, and records of those interrogations were kept. And presumably the president or some designate was authorized to look at those records.

So why go ahead with the Rose Garden event? Obama had a perfectly legitimate story to tell: The American POW in Afghanistan had to be returned, irrespective of his character, and even at the cost of negotiating with terrorists or violating the law governing notification of Congress. (The Constitution affirms that the president is commander of the armed forces in wartime; and throughout American history presidents have assumed, correctly, that in practice they have essentially infinite wiggle room against any congressional attempts to restrain their power. The congressional notification scandal should have been a twelve-hour story.)

So why bring Robert and Jani Bergdahl in for a photo-op that at best would look a bit strange, given Robert’s grooming and his public attempts to find common ground with his son’s captors? The story of how the Bergdahls ended up at the White House is pure turnip-truck territory. According to Time:

Their presence at the White House on Saturday was the apparent product of coincidence: the couple had visited the capitol for a Memorial Day event and then stayed in town for meetings in Congress. Had they been at home in Idaho when the deal was announced, they likely would not have flown to Washington to appear with Obama—and a key visual element of the drama, replayed endlessly on television, might not have occurred.

Does this happen often, that somebody with business before the president of the United States just happens to be in D.C. and gets invited to swing by the White House? Where did the Bergdahls stay during their D.C. visit, and who paid? How were they vetted before their appearance with the president — both for security and for political sensitivities — and how long did the process take? Did anybody at the White House know Robert Bergdahl was going to say “bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim,” along with the “Pashto phrase” that has been getting so much attention?

I am not damning Robert Bergdahl here; I hope never to find out how I would behave if my child were at the mercy of Muslim psychotics. But I am saying it was bafflingly stupid to have him buddy up with the president for international television coverage.

The conventional wisdom now is that the Bergdahl story was at first viewed as a triumph, until questions began to emerge. This is not exactly true. National Security Adviser Susan Rice was already on the defensive by Sunday morning, when she made her infamous claim that Bergdahl had served with “honor and distinction.” The Rose Garden ceremony was creepy at its heart. Had it not been creepy, there was still a roughly 100 percent probability that people would pay attention to the story.

The shilly-shallying and crabbed vocabulary coming out of the executive branch this workweek (State Department spokesman Marie Harf uncorked “fact pattern” Tuesday) indicate something worse than garden-variety presidential dishonesty. They indicate incompetence.

It is a cardinal rule of image management that you never roll out a story you may have to walk back. In this respect, strict and well-supported factual accuracy is even more important to a flack than it is to a journalist. A reporter who gets something wrong can generally make post-facto corrections without much fuss. But if you’re trying to make a client look good (or just less-bad), even minor inaccuracies are poisonous.

In this case, the weaknesses in the official story would have been clear to one of Kim Jong-un’s staffers. How much contempt must the president have for the voters if he can’t come out and say: Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has been freed in exchange for the release of five Guantanamo detainees. We thank the royal family of Qatar for helping negotiate the exchange. Sergeant Bergdahl, the last POW of the Afghan war, remains on active status and is being well treated?

What was served by the Rose Garden show? What was the teachable moment? 

Tags: Bowe Bergdahl , Afghanistan , Islam , Islamism

Apologize, Chris Murphy.


I think a statement this spectacularly wrongheaded deserves a consequence.

The statement is particularly mendacious or ill-informed, considering:

1. The strongest, and certainly most consequential, denunciations of Bergdahl are not coming from “Obama haters” but those who fought alongside him and those who looked for him after he disappeared.

2. The New York Times reports Bergdahl “left behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life.” So he actually chose to not fight to protect the rest of us.

3. One report indicates Bergdahl renounced his citizenship before disappearing.

4. If the Taliban’s claim is correct, Bergdahl helped the Taliban kill Americans — effectively choosing to fight for the other side.

Senator Murphy owes a lot of men and women in uniform an apology for not taking their objections about the Bergdahl deal seriously.


Tags: Chris Murphy , Afghanistan , Bowe Bergdahl

An Ominous Deal, Looking Worse With Each Passing Day


From the Tuesday Morning Jolt, we have no choice but to start the day with the worsening details of the Bergdahl deal . . . 

New Revelations About the Bergdahl Deal So Awful, It’s Hard to Understand . . . 

Some days, you read the news, and find yourself asking, “is this real?”

Massive Problem Number One: Apparently a lot of our intelligence guys didn’t want these five captured Taliban released under any circumstances.

A report that will leave a sick feeling in your stomach, from Eli Lake:

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, according to three U.S. intelligence officials, flat out rejected the release of the five detainees, saying there was too high a risk these Taliban commanders would return to the battlefield and orchestrate attacks against Americans.

Clapper was not alone. Leon Panetta, who was then the Secretary of Defense, declined to certify that the United States could mitigate the risk to national interests of releasing the Taliban commanders.

A lot has changed since 2012. To start, President Obama won reelection. Panetta is gone, and in his place is Chuck Hagel, a Republican former senator who has been much more in sync with Obama’s views on the war on terror than his predecessors.

But current U.S. intelligence and defense officials who spoke to The Daily Beast on Monday say the process for exchanging Taliban for Bergdahl this time was rushed and closely held, in some instances leaving little room for any push back against a policy clearly favored by the White House.

For what it’s worth, Clapper’s spokesman said he is on board with the deal now.

Massive Problem Number Two: The whole deal wasn’t legal.

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin declared on Monday that President Barack Obama “broke the law” when his administration failed to give Congress notice of at least 30 days before releasing five ranking Taliban members from Guantanamo Bay. Toobin said that a presidential signing statement did not absolve Obama from culpability for failing to abide by the law mandating congressional notification.

“I think he clearly broke the law,” Toobin said. “The law says 30-days’ notice. He didn’t give 30-days’ notice.” Toobin added that Obama’s opinion expressed in a signing statement “is not law.”

“The law is on the books, and he didn’t follow it,” Toobin added.

Massive Problem Number Three: Fresh off violating our national obligation to take care of our veterans when they return, our government is violating its national obligation to the families of fallen soldiers. Or at least stirring fresh pain anew:

Robert Andrews believes his own son might still be alive if U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl had not gone missing from his Afghan guard post on June 30, 2009.

As Bergdahl emerges from five years of Taliban captivity, former comrades are accusing him of walking away from his unit and prompting a massive manhunt they say cost the lives of at least six fellow soldiers, including Andrews’ 34-year-old son, Darryn, a second lieutenant.

“Basically, my son died unnecessarily, hunting for a guy that we shouldn’t even have been hunting for,” Andrews told Reuters.

What on earth can anyone say to these families?

Sondra Andrews’ son, 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews, is one of six soldiers killed reportedly while searching for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

The sergeant’s return to captivity has stirred “very raw emotions.”

“It gets really hurtful when I think, this guy was worth my son’s life? My son who was patriotic? Who was a true soldier? Who defended his country with his life?” Andrews told Army Times via phone on Monday. “That guy was worth that? I don’t think so.”

Massive Problem Number Four: Meet the guy we rescued, before he disappeared from his post:

“The future is too good to waste on lies,” Bowe wrote. “And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be american. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.”

The e-mail went on to list a series of complaints: Three good sergeants, Bowe said, had been forced to move to another company, and “one of the biggest s*** bags is being put in charge of the team.” His battalion commander was a “conceited old fool.” The military system itself was broken: “In the US army you are cut down for being honest . . . but if you are a conceited brown nosing s*** bag you will be allowed to do what ever you want, and you will be handed your higher rank. . . . The system is wrong. I am ashamed to be an american. And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools.” The soldiers he actually admired were planning on leaving: “The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at. It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good SGTs are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same.”

Massive Problem Number Five: Here’s a disturbing report of the captivity:

A captured American soldier is training Taliban fighters bomb-making and ambush skills, according to one of his captors and Afghan intelligence officials.

Private Bowe Bergdahl disappeared in June 2009 while based in eastern Afghanistan and is thought to be the only U.S. serviceman in captivity.

The 24-year-old has converted to Islam and now has the Muslim name Abdullah, one of his captors told The Sunday Times.

A Taliban deputy district commander in Paktika, who called himself Haji Nadeem, told the newspaper that Bergdahl taught him how to dismantle a mobile phone and turn it into a remote control for a roadside bomb.

Nadeem claimed he also received basic ambush training from the U.S. soldier.

’Most of the skills he taught us we already knew,’ he said. ‘Some of my comrades think he’s pretending to be a Muslim to save himself so they wouldn’t behead him.’

Massive Problem Number Six: This graphic spread far and wide Monday, claiming to depict six U.S. soldiers killed in the course of the years-long search for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was released over the weekend by his Taliban captors:


Asked about the claims, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said it’s “impossible” to confirm right now whether anybody’s death was directly linked to the hunt for Bergdahl.

But the Pentagon will look further into the circumstances of the deaths being associated with the search, he said.

Not something you usually see on Jake Tapper’s program:

“He is at best a deserter, and at worst a traitor,” says former U.S. Army Sgt. Josh Korder. Korder served with Bergdahl in Blackfoot company, 2nd platoon in Afghanistan, and was recently discharged from the military.

Tags: Afghanistan , Bowe Bergdahl , James Clapper , Leon Panetta

White House on Whether Bergdahl Was a Deserter: ‘A Lot of Ifs Attached’ to That Question


President Obama’s team doesn’t know if Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. Army sergeant held captive in Afghanistan until his release was obtained this weekend through the release of five top Taliban leaders, is a deserter.

“You’re citing a circumstance with a lot of ifs attached to it,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said during Monday’s press briefing. A reporter had alluded to allegations that Bergdahl walked away from his post, and asked if national-security adviser Susan Rice “misspoke” when she said that Bergdahl had “served the United States with honor and distinction.” 

The Defense Department is still “evaluating all of the circumstances surrounding [Bergdahl's] initial detention and his captivity, and that process continues, obviously, directly with Sergeant Bergdahl now that he is in U.S. care,” Carney told reporters.

“The first and foremost thing that we have to recognize is that Sergeant Bergdahl was in captivity for five years, held against his will,” Carney said.

Soldiers who served with Bergdahl have told CNN’s Jake Tapper they’re angry about the prisoner exchange that secured his release.

“According to firsthand accounts from soldiers in his platoon, Bergdahl, while on guard duty, shed his weapons and walked off the observation post with nothing more than a compass, a knife, water, a digital camera and a diary,” Tapper wrote.

“At least six soldiers were killed in subsequent searches for Bergdahl,” Tapper reported, “and many soldiers in his platoon said attacks seemed to increase against the United States in Paktika province in the days and weeks following his disappearance.”

Tags: White House , Jay Carney , Department of Defense , Afghanistan , Taliban , Bowe Bergdahl

Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya: America’s Out of the Deposing-Rulers Business


Today’s Morning Jolt features a surprising vote for Ken Cuccinelli in the governor’s race, analysis of Putin’s maneuvering in the Syria crisis, and then a look at an element that’s been missing from the discussion of war in Syria:

Why Americans Aren’t that Angry at Bashir Assad

Real American anger at Assad is missing from the current debate about Syria; by and large, we don’t really feel enormous animosity or fury or rage towards the Syrian dictator. Ironically, there isn’t much dispute about his worst crime; the polling is pretty clear: “While eight in 10 Americans believe that Bashar al-Assad’s regime gassed its own people, a strong majority doesn’t want Congress to pass a resolution authorizing a military strike against it.”

But Assad doesn’t set Americans’ blood to a boil. Perhaps a decade of war, and runaway anti-Americanism, have left us shrugging when we see an evil man who has, at least so far, avoided direct confrontation with the United States.

America has a lot of enemies in that region who are directly confronting the United States: Just under one year ago today:


Cairo, above; Benghazi, below.

The pictures above are from Egypt — where we thought we stood with the Egyptian people, in their decision to depose Mubarak — and Libya, where we and NATO took military action to help the Libyan people against the dictator Qaddafi. And then the locals turned on us and attacked our diplomatic facilities and personnel. Then you throw in the response of the Iraqi people and the Afghans, last seen inflicting “green on blue” attacks by infiltrating the Afghan security forces and killing coalition personnel.

Right now, Americans aren’t that convinced that anybody over there is really deserving of our help. We’re not convinced that we would do much good, we’re nearly certain no one would be thankful, and we’re suspicious that the folks we help will just turn around and attack us again later. It’s painting with a broad brush, but one shaped by hard experience.

Tags: Obama , Syria , Benghazi , Egypt , Afghanistan

We’re Negotiating With the Taliban . . . Again.


Our government is negotiating with the Taliban again.

This was an idea that Mitt Romney criticized in January 2012, garnering a lot of sneers from the foreign-policy establishment. They pointed out that there was a broad, bipartisan consensus in favor of peace talks, from John McCain to David Petraeus to the Obama administration.

And then by October it was clear that the negotiations were going nowhere. From the front page of the New York Times:

With the surge of American troops over and the Taliban still a potent threat, American generals and civilian officials acknowledge that they have all but written off what was once one of the cornerstones of their strategy to end the war here: battering the Taliban into a peace deal. . . . Now American officials say they have reduced their goals further — to patiently laying the groundwork for eventual peace talks after they leave. American officials say they hope that the Taliban will find the Afghan Army a more formidable adversary than they expect and be compelled, in the years after NATO withdraws, to come to terms with what they now dismiss as a “puppet” government.

Divisions between the Taliban’s political wing and its military commanders were one big obstacle, as well as the Taliban’s demand that the U.S. release five senior commanders from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the sole American soldier held by the insurgents, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Of course, back in 2008, as a presidential candidate, Obama denounced the Pakistani government for . . . negotiating with the Taliban.

We can’t coddle, as we did, a dictator, give him billions of dollars and then he’s making peace treaties with the Taliban and militants. What I’ve said is we’re going to encourage democracy in Pakistan, expand our nonmilitary aid to Pakistan so that they have more of a stake in working with us, but insisting that they go after these militants.

Sure, there was a bipartisan consensus in favor of negotiating with the Taliban, but that consensus didn’t extend to millions of Americans with no foreign-policy experience, who probably could summarize their sensibilities in just a few sentences: “They’re the Taliban, and they’re trying to kill our soldiers. Why do we think we can trust them to keep their word? And if we can’t trust them to keep their word on their end of the agreement, why are we negotiating with them?”

That key obstacle remains. Now we’re negotiating again. Why should we expect this effort at a negotiated peace to end differently than the last one?

If you can’t trust a face like this . . . er, never mind.

Tags: Afghanistan , Barack Obama

Surprise, Surprise: Negotiations With the Taliban Failed.


Mitt Romney, back on January 16:

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney said on Monday the United States should not negotiate with the Taliban and he criticized the Obama administration for efforts to broker secret talks with the Afghan insurgents.

The reaction:

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius:

He needs to be more careful before attacking anything that he thinks he can tag as belonging to the “Obama” administration, and therefore bad. Perhaps when the general election comes around, Romney will find a way to reconnect to the bipartisan consensus about the need, under some circumstances, to “negotiate with evil,” as his adviser Reiss put it.

Mother Jones:

It’s merely another instance of the Republican contender ducking nuance and going for the cheap, primary-season applause line when it comes to foreign policy.

Michael Crowley of Time:

Romney opposes talking to the Taliban. That’s a relatively extreme position. For some time now, it’s been widely accepted within the foreign policy establishment that any realistic endgame in Afghanistan will involve some kind of negotiated peace deal with our enemies in Afghanistan.

Fast-forward to today’s front page of the New York Times:

With the surge of American troops over and the Taliban still a potent threat, American generals and civilian officials acknowledge that they have all but written off what was once one of the cornerstones of their strategy to end the war here: battering the Taliban into a peace deal. . . . Now American officials say they have reduced their goals further — to patiently laying the groundwork for eventual peace talks after they leave. American officials say they hope that the Taliban will find the Afghan Army a more formidable adversary than they expect and be compelled, in the years after NATO withdraws, to come to terms with what they now dismiss as a “puppet” government.

The Taliban that won’t negotiate with coalition forces is going to become more amenable to a deal with the Afghan army? Eh, maybe they can bond over their shared stories of shooting at coalition troops.

The article mentions divisions between the Taliban’s political wing and its military commanders as an obstacle, and the Taliban’s demand that the U.S. release five senior commanders from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the sole American soldier held by the insurgents, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Skeptics and critics of negotiating with the Taliban were right, and the bipartisan advocates of this outreach — from President Obama to David Petraeus to Sen. John McCain — were wrong.

This is strangely reminiscent of the issue of how to respond to the uprising in Iran in 2009, when Republican critics said we needed to take a stronger, louder, more visible stance in support of those opposing the Iranian regime, and Obama took a “muted” stance that he later said he regretted. Obama was wrong, and his critics were right.

Tags: Afghanistan , Barack Obama , Mitt Romney


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