Are We Ready to Talk?

by Joshua Foust on 3/29/2011 · 3 comments

In The Atlantic, I wonder if we’re truly ready for a national discussion about negotiating with the Taliban:

Public discussions in the U.S. about the war tend to focus only on the military aspect of what happens after the planned 2014 troop drawdown. But there will have to be political transition as well, in which the Taliban, whether we like it or not, as a politically relevant Afghan group, will have to play a role. But the politics of Afghanistan, and of our involvement there, remain surprisingly absent from out public debate over the war. Only last week, when General Petraeus visited Washington to give Congress a progress report on the war, the talk focused almost entirely on the military aspects. Petraeus, as well as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michelle Flournoy, who also testified, spoke of political matters on briefly and as secondary the military mission. That doesn’t mean that Petraeus and the Pentagon are ignorant of the political aspect of the war or its importance. But what they chose to discuss and not discuss provides a telling indication that, even at the highest levels, our national conversation about the war gives little attention to the importance of its political elements. But it’s exactly those elements that will matter most in negotiating with the Taliban — an inherently political proposition.

Are we getting the political aspects of the war in Afghanistan as much as we’re getting the military aspects? I think that’s a discussion we need to have.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Tojik March 29, 2011 at 6:18 pm

It is straightforward, simple, easy, and a no-brainer to explain the reason behind the absence of discussion on the political aspect and elements. Its called a Military-Industrial Complex’ (MIC) interest in the longevity of wars the United States of America is conducting (note – сonducting, not fighting). And behind the MIC hidden are the emlopyment created for ordinary people working for MIC; suppliers, vendors, brokers, and so on. So, the longer the wars continue, the better for the rich and politically connected MIC and their lobbyinsts in the Congress of the United States.

I indulge myself and take it a step further and say that, since there is no precedent to build a nation (especially Afghanistan, given its cultural ‘beauty’, and diversity), its hardly possible the US and its allies have a clue on what they are doing there. One thing, among others is true that they are just pumping the US taxpayers money into these countries for nothing in return.

If there is some return, it is in the form of delapidated infrastructure, poor public sector, absent healthcare for millions, et al.

WHAT A SHAME to see the US getting on the same road the USSR walked and failed.

dianna March 30, 2011 at 12:42 am

I have read this article more than once and took a good lashing from a blogger/ex-service member concerning my thinking that negotiations and Taliban’s position, now, is important. From a military perspective, perhaps it is not that important. However, in the political arena and with withdrawal beginning in the near future the Afghan public must be engaged in these changes, Hamad Karzai (laa) and women’s issues. The US public have no “clue” concerning the humanitarian, infrastructural and educational work accomplished during this mission. It is simply not flashy news. It is time for reality to come to the surface and an educated US public is good for rising to the occasion. Great article.

Don Anderson March 30, 2011 at 3:29 am

Sure a debate. But not one tinged with “we really should be talking, because…well because…because we should be”

This is where we are at. The vast middle ground of Afghans does not want the Taliban in. Sorry, they actually do not. No matter how bad we have done in counter insurgency, no matter the disaster of the “managers” in Kabul and Washington, no matter the “vision” some of us might have.

Any negotiation is going to have to be Afghan driven and on a an Afghan time frame. Washington sadly will be left out of this to a large extent. Talks are going to happen when Afghans decide and on Afghan terms. PBS is way out of this, the Atlantic too.

There is no need for a US “national” debate. We are not the drivers as much as we would love to imagine. The Afghans are and will be and have always decided this struggle-whether we accept this or not.

Here in Jalalabad today we all know things are going very very wrong. But that does not change one bit the fact that Afghans will decide what happens in Afghanistan in the end. When the end arrives is always going to be up to them. It is about time everyone realizes this.

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