The Campaign Spot

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.

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