Friday 24 October 2008

Obama and McCain would 'talk to Taliban'

Time's Joe Klein has a significant interview with Barack Obama.

It includes a potentially important development in his thinking on Afghanistan.

Actually, Obama and Petraeus seem to be thinking along similar lines with regard to Afghanistan. I mentioned that Petraeus had recently given a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation in which he raised the possibility of negotiating with the Taliban. "You know, I think this is one useful lesson that is applicable from Iraq," Obama said without hesitation. "The Sunni awakening changed the dynamic in Iraq fundamentally," he said, referring to the Petraeus-led effort to turn the Sunni tribes away from the more radical elements of the insurgency. "Whether there are those same opportunities in Afghanistan I think should be explored," he said.

Wired's Noah Shactman, one of the most respected reporters on security issues, has, perhaps significantly, got a McCain campaign source to respond consensually.

"There are differences over timing, strategy, etc. But there is consensus that at some point there will need to be an effort to talk with some of these [Taliban] guys and peel off more moderate elements".

This might be surprising in the final phases of a campaign when there could have been a late partisan advantage to be made in politicising (perhaps misrepresenting) Obama's position on 'talking to the Taliban'. (Maybe Schactman has got a view informed more by McCain's foreign policy advisers rather than his political operatives).

That Obama is here endorsing the emulation of an important part of the Petreaus strategy in Iraq may have a good deal to do with that. But perhaps, and despite all recent appearances to the contrary, 'Country First' is still an argument which holds some sway with the McCain campaign on issues that really matter.

PS: Even outside of the campaign context, the British experience shows why politicians can be wary of this debate in public.

Last December, British discussion of strategies to "split" the Taliban generated front-page Brown: It's time to talk to the Taliban headlines. A Parliamentary statement which generated We will not negotiate with Taliban, insists Brown headlines the following day.

The proposed strategy was always, rationally, somewhere in between. Or as Paul Woodward of War in Context put it: 'We will not talk to the Taliban who we won’t talk to, apart from those who we will talk to'. That is more sensible than it might sound. And it appears to be the policy which both US candidates are converging on too.

Cross-posted from World After Bush.

1 comment:

Sun Tzu said...

It is clear that the next U.S. President as well as other leaders in the West are going to have to deal strategically with Afghanistan in the next decade. What are their options. A prominent military strategist: John A. Warden III opines two strategic options in his recent post: Strategic Options: The West and Afghanistan. Which option do you think the next administration will favor?