Obama Repeats Mistakes in Afghanistan: Purposeless Engagement

An article today by Michael Rubin in Commentary Magazine lays out the history of our State Department’s many years of purposeless “engagement” with the Taliban; “engagement” meaning diplomacy and endless, endless meetings over the years, costing certainly billions in the quest for what our Government had to, at some point between then and now, realize  was folly…but apparently not.

Today, the Obama administration continues the awkward dance of engagement that began in 1995:

The story the documents tell is one of engagement for its own
sake—without any consideration given to the behavior or sincerity of an
unambiguously hostile interlocutor.

…another U.S. diplomat met a Taliban “insider” who told the official
what he wanted to hear: the Taliban liked the United States, had no
objection to elections in Afghanistan, and were suspicious of both
Saudi and Pakistani intentions. This was nonsense, but it was manna for
American diplomats who wanted to believe that engagement was possible.

In 1997, Madeleine Albright followed in Warren Christopher’s engagement policy:

Simply sitting down for tea with a diplomat fulfilled the Taliban’s
major needs before bargaining ever began. Engagement ironically removed
any incentive the Taliban had to cease sponsoring terror or mitigate
human-rights abuses.

Albright had tea with the thugs, as had all those before her. Afghan women and girls lived the most brutal lives, under the harshest circumstances of any women, anywhere – while she took tea with the Taliban.

Diplomats met Taliban representatives every few weeks….What resulted was theater: the Taliban would stonewall on terrorism but
would also dangle just enough hope to keep diplomats calling and
forestall punitive strategies. It was not hard for the Taliban to
string diplomats along.

On January 16, 1997, Holzman suggested that the Taliban allow a U.S.
team to visit the sites of terrorist camps to confirm the alleged
cessation of activity therein. Wakil Ahmed, a political adviser to
Taliban leader Mullah Omar, agreed at first; but over subsequent weeks,
he offered a litany of excuses to delay the visit—the Ramadan fast,
winter snows, and scheduling difficulties. Eventually the offer was
rescinded altogether.

Once again, the State Department walked away empty-handed, while the
Taliban had secured for themselves a four-month reprieve from pressure
at the very moment that al-Qaeda was using its Afghanistan base to plot
attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania….

Rubin walks the reader through ABC’s interview with bin Lade in May 1998. Then the embassy August bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and points out:

Any notion that engagement had convinced the Taliban to cease support for terrorism should have evaporated. It didn’t….

Wakil Ahmed [Taliban foreign minister] repeated the canard that popular sentiment in his country
would not allow the Taliban to expel Bin Laden, despite the carnage in
Kenya and Tanzania.

Nonetheless, the State Department found promise in
the discussion, even though a face-to-face meeting with Americans
served only to reinforce the Taliban gang’s pretensions as a government
rather than as an umbrella group for terrorists.

“Now is the time to notch up the diplomatic—-repeat—diplomatic
pressure,” Milam [Ambassador to Pakistan] wrote. “A political / diplomatic solution to Bin
Laden’s expulsion from Afghanistan may be a mite more possible now.”

 By November, “a Taliban court found bin Laden not guilty” of bombing our embassies. The dance continued.

Before long, the Taliban were again giving Bin Laden unfettered access to the media.

We continued plying funds into our agricultural adventures with the Taliban, hoping to convert them from drugs to vegetables – as Rubin put it: “the Taliban garden refused to yield even a hint of a green shoot.”

Now today, the Karzai government plans to bribe the Taliban with money and jobs – hoping to lure them into communities where “the people” try to live out the day without dying. President Karzai has told the BBC “the US will fund the scheme.”

Obama’s willingness to accept the conventional history—we lost
Afghanistan because we ignored Afghanistan—is reason for grave concern.
The story of Afghanistan in the 1990s is a story of the limits of
diplomacy for its own sake. And diplomacy for its own sake is a
cornerstone, perhaps the cornerstone, of Obama’s foreign policy.

specifically in Afghanistan, he is already signaling a readiness to
repeat the mistakes of engagement with the very extremists whose
behavior made possible the attacks of 9/11 and who have returned to
torment Afghanistan.

 I hope you will read this excellent and insightful piece, Taking Tea with the Taliban by Michael Rubin at Commentary Magazine. We who cannot learn from history, even the most powerful in the world, are likely doomed to repeat it.

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