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Administration’s New Afghan Strategy Looks Like Joe Biden’s 2009 Afghan Strategy

The United States has a revised strategy for the war in Afghanistan, one which, according to Spencer Ackerman, is pretty bracingly honest:

The Obama administration, as the Washington Post reports, is pursuing a new strategy to end the war, called “Fight, Talk, Build,” in Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s phrase. In essence, it means the U.S. will no longer outsource negotiations with insurgents to the Afghan government, and it hinges on getting the Pakistanis to bring its insurgent proxies to the table.

The problem is that the Obama team and the U.S. military still don’t know how to connect “Fight” to “Talk.” Under this new strategy, the connection isn’t any battlefield setbacks for the Taliban that bring them in from the cold, as the war’s last two commanders predicted. It’s a diplomatic effort, distinct from the surge, to persuade the Pakistanis to make the insurgents talk peace.

As Ackerman explains, this tacitly admits that the surge failed to achieve its goal of clearing space for a negotiated settlement and an end to the war. The strategy had to change. So what this means is that tens of thousands of Americans were put in harm’s way in Afghanistan, and many died, for basically nothing. Now the Administration is basically going back to the Biden strategy of a limited counter-terrorism mission and direct negotiations to find a way out of the morass. That was on the table all the way back in 2009. It was the road not taken.

The good news is that this decision has been reached at all; as Spencer says, if the idea is to fight and talk at the same time, invariably that will lead to less fighting and more talking. The escalation will subside, and the surge will have ended, with most people wondering what the benefits were.

As for the Pakistanis being involved directly in the negotiations, at least we’ve stopped pretending who the combatants are in this war. Maybe that’s the first step to a pullout.

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David Dayen

David Dayen