THE TALKING TRAP: AFGHAN FOLLIES
JUNKIES SEEKING THEIR NEXT FIX
NEGOTIATIONS are the heroin of the chattering classes, blinding them to every reality except the next fix they can inject into our foreign policy. The pushers—our delighted enemies—pile up strategic profits.
Certainly, there are situations in which negotiations make sense, such as structuring trade terms or defining alliance contributions. But the notion that if only we can sit down with our enemies, we’ll inevitably persuade them to love us, is a deadly self-delusion.
There’s a looming danger that President Obama’s naive and profoundly anti-military cadres will misinterpret Gen. David Petraeus’ tactic of opening communications with Taliban elements and seek to make talks the centerpiece of the new administration’s Afghan policy. If so, we might as well pack up and leave now.
TROOPS DIE; COOKIE-PUSHERS FLY
No American soldier should die just so diplomats can rack up frequent-flyer miles.
Negotiations during a conflict only work to our advantage when we’re in a position of strength that threatens the enemy’s existence or when bloodied opponents have wearied of the fight. Both conditions applied in Iraq.
They don’t apply in Afghanistan. In Iraq, al Qaeda had worn out its welcome. The Sunni Arabs wanted our help. In Afghanistan, Taliban-style Islamist fanaticism has a deep constituency.
While most Afghans don’t want the Taliban back, a fierce minority does. And, unlike Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, the Taliban think they can win.
A DEADLY ZERO-SUM GAME
The equation is simple: We kill them, or we lose. Fighting fanatics is a zero-sum game.
And let’s stop saying, “We can’t kill our way out of this problem.” Faced with faith-drunk killers, there’s no other way out. History doesn’t reveal a single exception.
It’s fine to deal with any disenchanted Taliban supporters who approach us—foes we can peel away are always welcome; but begging the hardcore Taliban for talks will only stiffen their convictions. They will interpret any readiness to talk as a sign that we’re losing.
Our military and political leaders are in danger of investing too much in a model that may not transfer from Iraq to Afghanistan. Iraq’s Sunni Arabs weren’t religious madmen (with a few exceptions). They were bitter about their loss of power, but weren’t anxious to blow themselves to bits for Allah.
The Taliban and al Qaeda mean what they profess, and they profess that it’s better to die fighting infidels than to give them an inch. Tribesmen may have various reasons for their local support of the Taliban, but the primary rallying mechanism is a sturdy combination of faith and ethnicity.
WHAT WASHINGTON DOESN’T WANT TO HEAR
Washington doesn’t want to hear it. Nobody in D.C. really believes that other human beings are willing to die for their faith. Religious passion is as foreign to Washington as integrity in the budget process. As this column noted after 9/11, we’re fighting enemies who regard death as a promotion. Washington still wants to excuse suicide bombing as a sociological phenomenon.
If Taliban elements agree to talk, most will view the talks as a chance to weaken our resolve and to buy time. This is the con for which we always fall. The Iranians, Saddam Hussein, the Palestinians, the North Koreans, the North Vietnamese, the Chinese and the Russians all have played “Paralyze the Gringos with endless talks.”
We always wake up alone, with the sheets stained and torn. If we can cut deals with wavering tribes, great. If we can talk (and bribe) some Taliban fighters into laying down their arms, terrific. But I’m going on record to declare that we won’t win a duel of words with the Taliban leadership.
WHY THEY BELIEVE
Why does Washington put so much faith in endless chatter? For multiple reasons:
* First, few government officials have any sense of the world’s brutal reality. They live in a lovely bubble (lined with mirrors).
* Second, most legislators and many high-level federal officials are lawyers. Lawyers get rich by talking. Every success they’ve had in life has come from some form of bargaining. They can’t believe it won’t work on suicide bombers.
* Third, Washington has the highest proportion of surviving welfare institutions in the nation. They’re called think tanks. They, too, profit from chatter—briefings, panels, seminars, white papers—not deeds.
* Fourth, we’re experiencing the long-term effects of ending the draft. It’s been great for our military, but disastrous for our country. Our rising generation of leaders lives in a comfy theoretical world in which the military is a distasteful legacy of less-enlightened times.
* Fifth, our leaders are afraid. Whenever they do glimpse the world’s horrid realities, they’re terrified. So they lie to themselves, pretending that a good heart-to-heart talk will solve any problem (if these guys could talk to the AIDS virus, they’d be in heaven).
And when another round of negotiations fails? The junkie’s instant amnesia kicks in. We‘re already looking forward to another fix.
Ralph Peters’ latest book is Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.