In an interview with The New York Times on Friday, President Barack Obama stated that he believes the United States is losing the war in Afghanistan and that he would be open to having the U.S. military negotiate with more moderate members of the Taliban, hopefully imitating the success of negotiations with Iraqi Sunni militants. This does appear to be an enactment of one of Obama’s most controversial campaign promises — namely, to be open to negotiations with “terrorist” countries without preconditions — and while it is certainly still a large unknown, it is certainly a step toward stabilizing Afghanistan.
With the beginning of the war in Iraq in 2003, much of the attention that was devoted both militarily and politically to Afghanistan, the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the aftermath of Sept. 11 shifted to Saddam Hussein and Iraq, especially when the situation in Iraq didn’t clean up quite as nicely as was hoped. Much of the trouble in controlling Afghanistan stems from the fact that the country is in many ways disunited with a range of views and loyalties to tribes, governments and ethnicities. President Obama hopes that in opening talks with the Taliban, as General David Petraeus did with Sunni “radicals,” he will be able to isolate and negotiate with more moderate and open members of the Taliban and its supporters to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and understanding between Afghanistan and the United States.
We at the Daily wholly support President Obama’s openness to talks with an “enemy” of the United States — if nothing else, these potential talks present an opportunity to promote understanding, if not agreement, and respect, if not friendship. President Obama’s openness to dialogue, for those who are in agreement with Gov. Sarah Palin’s accusations during the presidential campaign that President Obama would be “palling around with terrorists,” shows the world that his administration really is committed to reaching out and closing the cultural and political gaps that provide support for organizations like al-Qaeda. It is a demonstration that Obama is willing to go beyond rhetoric and catchphrases and bring the change he advocated for during the presidential race.
It is through the use of dialogue, the promotion of understanding, and the openness to both that the United States can hope to resolve the issues that still fester in Afghanistan and maybe, with some luck, lessen the grip of extremism and fundamentalism that clouds negotiation and taints political relations. And while this is certainly not a guarantee of peace, negotiations or even talks between the United States and Afghanistan, it is at least a step in the right direction.