Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy reports:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that Osama bin Laden’s death could advance the effort to reach a political resolution to the war in Afghanistan, because it might convince the Taliban and al Qaeda to come to the negotiating table.
“In Afghanistan, we have to continue to take the fight to al Qaeda and its Taliban allies. Perhaps now they will take seriously the work that we are doing on trying to have some reconciliation process that resolves the insurgency,” Clinton said on Wednesday to a conference of editorial writers at the State Department. “So our message to the Taliban hasn’t changed; it just has even greater resonance today. They can’t wait us out, they can’t defeat us; they need to come into the political process and denounce al Qaeda and renounce violence and agree to abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan.”
For conservative supporters of the Afghanistan war, this is bunk. Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies e-mailed me yesterday: “Negotiation with the Taliban is a polite way of negotiating surrender and a return to civil war. This is a SURREAL analysis of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Bin Laden was irrelevant to that identity: it’s fully formed and virulent. There are only two options: stay and fight this out or give up, pull out, and then support a new Northern Alliance in the civil war.” And that option isn’t promising, Gerecht explains, since the Pakistanis will be aiding their Taliban cohorts to the hilt. Gerecht is blunt: “So to put it another way: we are beginning to lose our strategic mind. We are fatigued. When tired, you make lots of mistakes.”
Negotiations with the Taliban, which has no reason to make any concessions to the United States at this point, is the last thing we should be doing, according to Fred Kagan, one of the principal analysts and advisers on the war. In fact, the death of Osama bin Laden, Kagan explained in recent House testimony, is virtually irrelevant to the trajectory of the war in Afghanistan: “With bin Laden dead, al-Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan remains robust and significant. Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian with ties (both friendly and hostile) with the Muslim Brotherhood, is a more gifted theorist and better writer than bin Laden ever was, although far less rhetorically effective and unlikely to be an inspirational leader.”
After detailing the long list of non-al-Qaeda terrorists who operate out of Pakistan and are providing support and sanctuary for Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, Kagan argues that we essentially need to keep at it, fully understanding the limitations of our “ally” Pakistan:
The current American and NATO strategy in Afghanistan is designed to degrade the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and [insurgent group Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin] within Afghanistan and to demonstrate beyond question that those groups will be unable to direct the course of events in Afghanistan even after Western forces hand over security responsibilities to the Afghan government and are significantly reduced in number. Demonstrating that those groups will fail will compel anyone in Pakistan who believes supporting them as proxies to be a plausible strategy for securing Pakistan’s interests to re-evaluate that approach fundamentally. The challenge for American strategy toward Pakistan will be finding ways to accompany progress against Islamist proxies in Afghanistan with efforts to help Pakistan’s ruling elite come to consensus on the overall dangers that Islamist groups within Pakistan pose and on the need to accept the costs and risks of combating and defeating them within Pakistan itself. The worst thing we could do now would be to take bin Laden’s death or the progress made to date in Afghanistan as an excuse to withdraw forces prematurely, thereby easing the pressure on militant Islamist groups in Afghanistan just as we would otherwise approach the point of maximum pressure on them and those who support them. Now is the time to reinforce success by exercising patience in Afghanistan and allowing the strategy designed to persuade everyone in Afghanistan and in Pakistan that the militant Islamists in Afghanistan will fail to continue to work.
In sum, Clinton and the rest of the Obama crew can try to peddle the idea that bin Laden’s death allows us to make the administration’s long-desired exit a reality. But we should be clear: This is an excuse, unsubstantiated and disingenuous. If President Obama does not want to fritter away his newly established international credibility he’ll reject entreaties to flee and instead go about the business of winning the war. Hasn’t he learned this week that winning is better than losing ?