The Campaign Spot

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.

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