The more I watch President Obama operate, the more I am convinced that he is working towards ending that indefinite war. First of all, he ended the rhetoric of Bush's global war on terror (GWOT) and instead has talked only about defeating al Qaeda. Next, he ended the war in Iraq. Now, as we're getting ready to leave Afghanistan, he's negotiating with the Taliban. Here's Vice-President Biden talking about why that's important.
We were in Afghanistan for two reasons. One is to deal with, curtail, begin to dismantle, and eventually eliminate al Qaeda. Not only from being able to come back into Afghanistan and control Afghanistan but from the region—to decimate al Qaeda...
The second reason for us to be in Afghanistan was to make sure that a country with tens of millions of people and nuclear weapons called Pakistan did not somehow begin to disintegrate or fall apart. That is a hell of a lot tougher job...
That is part of what the reconciliation process is about right now. We are not just deciding that all we are doing is supporting a government and building up their military capability. We’re engaged in a reconciliation process. Whether it will work or not is another question. But we are in a position where if Afghanistan ceased and desisted from being a haven for people who do damage and have as a target the United States of America and their allies, that’s good enough. That’s good enough. We’re not there yet.
Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests. If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us. So there’s a dual track here:
One, continue to keep the pressure on al Qaeda and continue to diminish them. Two, put the government in a position where they can be strong enough that they can negotiate with and not be overthrown by the Taliban. And at the same time try to get the Taliban to move in the direction to see to it that they, through reconciliation, commit not to be engaged with al Qaeda or any other organization that they would harbor to do damage to us and our allies.
Here is some information on what is happening in those negotiations.
In return for the release of prisoners still held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, the lifting of United Nations sanctions on its leadership and its recognition as a legitimate political group, the Taliban was expected to agree to sever its links to transnational organisations like al-Qaeda, end violence and eventually share power with the Afghan government.
The Taliban are not our enemies. But they were the ones that gave al Qaeda sanctuary and the ability to plan/carry out their attacks. Now Afghanistan has a government (weak and corrupted though it is) that could be put at risk by the Taliban when we leave. If the Taliban can be convinced to break ties with al Qaeda and negotiate a role with the Afghan government, that, along with the way al Qaeda has been weakened militarily, could open the way for an end to this war we've been waging since 9/11.
No one is saying the negotiations are a sure thing right now, nor are they predicting success. But to me, this is an incredibly big story that is basically flying under the radar right now. I suspect the WH is ok with that due to the sensitivity involved in working this out - not to mention the holy hell that would come from conservatives about it.
But as we talk about issues like NDAA, this is the backdrop we need to be aware of. The Obama administration will first have to traverse the dangerous waters of negotiations involving the Afghan government and the Taliban. IF they can be successful, the stage will be set for convincing the American people (and their representatives in Congress) that the war we all bought in to as indefinite is, in fact, over.
That's the long game I'm convinced President Obama is playing...and the one where we'll need to be prepared to have his back.
P.S. For more on this, read Winter Truce Talks with the Taliban at Osborne Ink.