Q&A Friday #100: Should We Negotiate With The Taliban?

Question: “What do you think about:

a) Negotiating with the Taliban

or

b) Negotiating with people who are allied with the Taliban, but no Taliban leadership?” — D-Vega

Answer: I think whether you negotiate with your enemies or not is a very situational decision that tends to depend on their strength, whether there is a genuine opportunity to talk productively (as opposed to merely hoping something happens if you talk long enough), and whether you are furthering your aims or their aims by talking.

When it comes to the Taliban, since a significant number of them do live in Afghanistan, I think it does make sense to negotiate with them as long as we’re coming from a position of strength.

For example, if the Taliban — or part of the Taliban — wants to negotiate laying down their weapons in exchange for some sort of amnesty, I think that’s a fruitful topic to at least discuss (Of course, in the interim, we should kill as many of them as humanly possible to help grease the negotiations).

On the other hand, if they wanted to discuss being given part of Afghanistan, were using the negotiations as a propaganda tool, or thought they were negotiating from a position of strength, I wouldn’t favor talking with them.

As for, “Negotiating with people who are allied with the Taliban, but no Taliban leadership,” that’s a no-brainer in a country like Afghanistan where loyalty is often to the highest bidder: of course, you talk to them and if it’s to your advantage, you deal with them.

PS: Again, that may seem a little situational, but complex foreign policy decisions often come across that way. You can have very general principles that define how you should handle things, but the specifics tend to get a little murky.

PS #2: Using these same principles, for example, I would strongly recommend against having the Obama Administration level talks with Iran. Why? Because merely coming to the table would be perceived as victory for them over America, there is no indication whatsoever that we have a genuine opportunity to talk productively, and it’s to their advantage, not our advantage, to keep us talking indefinitely while they continue working on nuclear weapons.

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