I really think we’re witnessing a sea change on the Afghanistan war. Not just from members of Congress who want to accelerate the drawdown or affix an endgame strategy, but from the Administration itself:

The Obama administration is seeking to use the killing of Osama bin Laden to accelerate a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and hasten the end of the Afghanistan war, according to U.S. officials involved in war policy.

Administration officials think it could now be easier for the reclusive leader of the largest Taliban faction, Mohammad Omar, to break his group’s alliance with al-Qaeda, a key U.S. requirement for any peace deal. They also think that bin Laden’s death could make peace talks a more palatable outcome for Americans and insulate President Obama from criticism that his administration would be negotiating with terrorists.

“Bin Laden’s death is the beginning of the endgame in Afghanistan,” said a senior administration official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations. “It changes everything.”

I really think Pakistan plays into this. For many years now, it seems we’ve been in Afghanistan to manage Pakistan. But with bin Laden out of the way, maybe we can get Pakistan to buy in to a regional settlement that is amenable to all parties. And certainly the demonstration project of the mission on bin Laden must have top Taliban leaders looking over their shoulders.

This will not happen overnight, but it could get us to a glide path to reconciliation, peace and withdrawal. But the proof of concept here will be the planned withdrawal from Iraq. If we keep that commitment, we show the Muslim world that we have established a new direction in relation to the region, away from imperialism and toward mutual respect. We reduce the intensity from one occupation in the region, momentum that can be transferred to the other. I think where we wind up in Iraq will tell us a lot about the course in Afghanistan.

Talk is cheap, as we’ve all seen. Now it’s time to take tangible steps. If peace talks get prioritized as a result of the killing of bin Laden, it will have been a positive development.

David Dayen

David Dayen