Friday, May 25, 2007

Talking: Bad idea, or worst idea?

It's so refreshing to see Canadian Liberals and Conservatives unite around the one principle that really brings them together: their enduring contempt for the Canadian people. And what, pray tell, is ushering in this era of hugs and puppies between the two dominant parties? The fact that 63% of Canadians now support negotiations with the Taliban.

Olaf and Antonio both react with their expected horror. Surely, there's nothing worse than the idea of talking with the enemy. Both basically express the idea that a) the Taliban won't agree to anything we would compromise on, and b) even if they did, we couldn't trust them to live up to their end of the bargain.

Note that no polling data says Canadians support negotiations as a first step to leave Afghanistan. (It's possible that Canadians do believe that, but we have no data.) Given the near-majority of support for staying in Afghanistan, we can say mathematically that at least some of the people who support negotiations categorically do not want to see negotiations as a prelude to departure.

So what is it that Canadians are actually suggesting? Perhaps, as in Yugoslavia, negotiations should lead to an end to hostilities, the conditions of a cease-fire which would then be enforced by a NATO or UN peacekeeping force. It would make sense that this would be prominent in Canadians' thinking -- it is the most recent example of Canadian military action overseas. But polls aren't mind-readings. There are plenty of other possibilities.

Because the alternative is not outright victory, despite what too many seem to believe. The most likely alternative is something like this. A grinding war that just doesn't end. There's always going to be some new offensive, some new "strategy" (not an actual change in strategy, you understand) or some barely plausible excuse to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And the military is simply not going to admit that they can't get the job done. Even if we dismiss the simplistic accusation that the military is pro-Afghanistan simply to expand the DND budget, there's an obvious reason why soldiers don't like to admit defeat: this is what they do for a living. Have you ever enjoyed being told that you suck? Shouldn't we view all the reports of the good work we're doing through this lens?

I don't know why Olaf and Antonio find even the idea of negotiations so reprehensible. Israel negotiated with Egypt, Nixon went to China, and the stakes in Afghanistan are just so much lower than any other case you can name. The worst case is the negotiations turn out to have been useless. What's the downside -- keeping in mind that we're still losing Canadians, including one today? That we're going to "legitimize" them? Please, look around. The Taliban have been legitimized by the Presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan (both of whom support negotiations), the Afghanistan Parliament, and the people of southern Afghanistan themselves who clearly support the Taliban in large numbers.

We have to deal with the reality on the ground, as they say. The Taliban clearly have the support of large numbers of people, they're well armed and well funded. We lack the military resources to defeat our enemies outright, as much as the United States lacks them in Iraq today, or lacked them in Vietnam or Korea. Nobody really contends that our forces in Afghanistan are sufficient, nor are they going to be reinforced any time soon. That leaves either leaving outright, or negotiations.

And yet the very idea terrifies some people. Why?


Olaf said...


I haven't closely read your post here (I'm in a hurry, and will tomorrow), however I think you're misrepresenting my opinion quite a bit from what I have read. Check my comments to my post and it clarifies things a bit. To summarize: I don't care if people (Karzai or NATO) want to negotiate with the Taliban, I wish good luck to them. I also think that negotiations are an important step after certain groups have already indicated a willingness to recognize the authority of the Afghan government. What bothers me is when people present the idea as if it will be a panacea for peace without suggesting what compromises they expect from the Taliban. They often do so condescendingly, which irritates me a great deal, because I'm skeptical of the value of negotiations with the more obstinate Talibani sects.

Anyways, I'll check back tomorrow and elaborate further, but if you read the comments to my post, you'll see you've missed my point by a ways. I know you used the disclaimer "basically", but you've simplified my point beyond all recognition.

john said...

I certainly abbreviated your argument, but I don't think I imputed anything to your post that isn't there. Please, if you think I've unfairly imagined something let me know. I'm crazy for the fairness!

Oh, and your post links approvingly to people far more condescending than yourself, including Antonio and the sometimes-sane-but-not-about-Afghanistan Andrew Coyne, so you've got to take that in to account.

About this, though, in your post:

"Negotiations are considered to be inherently good, and thus mistakenly assumed to be inherently wise or likely to succeed."

This is where I think you get in to trouble. Nobody can say that most Canadians assume negotiations would succeed, because there's simply no polling done on that kind of detail. We don't know why, exactly, most Canadians currently support negotiations. I suspect that most Canadians are tiring of Afghanistan and are trying to create an exit strategy, despite our leaders. But that's probably as much my wishful thinking as anything else. See the problems with all this?

john said...

Oh, and I'll be working Saturday so apologies if I don't jump right on your comments.

auntiegrav said...

Canadians are smarter than the generals. Or better informed, perhaps.
If you are having a War, then the basic idea is that, eventually, you want the war to end. Unless you intend to kill every last member of the opposition, then some kind of discussion must take place to figure out what the end of a war will consist of.
Unlike the Bush administration, who doesn't have any idea of what the end of the Iraq war will look like; never have. They don't care. They expected Christ to show up by now and save them the trouble of negotiating what to do with all those maimed orphans and starving women left without a coherent infrastructure to find out what happened to their homes and families.
(was that one sentence?)
Regardless of the horrific view of the Taliban, supporting negotiations with 'the enemy' is simple logic. Agreeing with what the negotiators work out is another story....

Closet Liberal said...

I don't find the idea terrifying. But I am in the "you're being naive camp" about negotiations.

a) There's no central org. to negotiate with.
b) They ain't interested in negotiating.

I think (and Olaf can chime in if I misrepresent this), our "fear" is a implicit assumption that we must adopt a unilateral cease-fire or otherwise cease offensive operations on our side before negotiating.

If that assumption is wrong, then yeah, go ahead and negotiate with whomever shows up at the table. I won't put too much faith in anything being achieved, but I'm willing to admit I could be wrong.

Its a problem with the simplistic nature of the poll against the complex situation that is Afghanistan. You could ask instead "Do you support ending hostilities in Afghanistan?"

100% of us would say yes, the smart ones would add "but how?"