Reading this Times piece about the internal debate over negotiating with the Taliban’s senior leadership, you come across a lot of down-in-the-story quotes like this one:

“It’s our view that until the Taliban leadership sees a change in the momentum and begins to see that they are not going to win, the likelihood of significant reconciliation at senior levels is not terribly great,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said last week in India.

That’s pretty much a consensus within the administration, a big part of the reason why there’s this “extended surge” in the first place and why you hear Gen. McChrystal talk in terms of “momentum.” If you were in the Quetta Shura Taliban, you probably don’t feel much need to negotiate. If, say, your foot soldiers are lured away with economic inducements or getting killed and the population has an alternative to your shadow government, then maybe you see it differently. I haven’t picked up on many in the administration who believe that Mullah Omar is fighting because he just needs a more generous offer from Karzai. At the same time, why not set up the mechanisms for negotiation, especially since Afghan civilians desire a negotiated end to the conflict? This piece could present the exact same information under the headline “Obama Team Sees Fighting Preceding Any Negotiation With Taliban Leaders.”

That’s why all this “Will we talk with Mullah Omar” talk feels decontextualized and silly. (Foust, it took me 19 months, but I see the error of my ways now; you were right.) Still, I’ve wanted to use this headline and this video forever, and I’m not going to wait until there’s an actual negotiation underway to pull the trigger.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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