One of the greatest differences between the State and Defense Departments is the amount of time the latter spends on self-criticism to determine lessons learned, and the former’s refusal to do so. It is one of the reasons we have the strongest militaries in the world, and some of the least effective diplomacy.
For example, many diplomats say that negotiation with the Taliban is worth trying. Secretary of State Clinton has gone so far as to compare the U.S. officials’ willingness to sit with their Soviet counterparts to the Obama administration’s outreach to Mullah Omar. While negotiation with the Taliban may now be a central pillar of Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan, such State Department efforts to negotiate with the Taliban are not new. In the years before 9/11, American diplomats and senior Clinton administration officials met the Taliban on almost three dozen occasions. Never have the State Department (let alone the Obama administration) conducted lessons learned on how the State Department’s best and brightest allowed the Taliban to string American officials along during these years with false declarations of sincerity and promises to resolve the terrorism problem through negotiation. All the while, the Taliban protected the training camps in which 9/11 hijackers trained.
Against this backdrop, as Max noted earlier, Vice President Joseph Biden’s declaration that the Taliban are not necessarily America’s enemy is as distressing as it is foolish. The statement may be designed to promote further engagement, but Biden is ignorant that such statements and redefinitions have been tried before. The Taliban underlined its disdain for negotiations when it assassinated former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was Afghanistan President Karzai’s point man for reconciliation. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who assumed command of al-Qaeda upon bin Laden’s death, also called attempts to engage the Taliban “a sign of the government weakness.” A columnist for the pan-Arabic daily al-Hayat noted that “The message that others can infer from the ‘diplomacy of dialogue’ pursued by the Obama administration is that extremism is the most effective way to attract the United States’ attention.” The website of Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a fierce Islamist allied with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, has described Obama’s offer to negotiate with moderate Taliban as a sign of U.S. defeat.
The evidence that negotiation with the Taliban has backfired is overwhelming; there is no evidence it has achieved any positive results. Alas, neither Obama nor Biden is interested in evidence. Their policy is made in a vacuum, detached from reality, and is destined once again to reverse America’s gains and to condemn America to strategic defeat.