Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.
After presiding for six years over a war in which over 1,600 Americans were killed fighting the Taliban, Obama did not mention the enemy during his West Point Commencement Address.
That wasn’t unusual. Obama has a curious habit of avoiding the “T-word” in his official speeches. Even when delivering his Rose Garden speech about Bergdahl’s return, the Taliban were never mentioned.
Obama’s mentions of the Taliban vary by context. When speaking to the military he might say that the United States is at war with the Taliban. In international diplomatic settings however he emphasizes that the conflict is really a civil war between the Taliban and the Afghan government with the United States there to act as a stabilizing force.
The President of Afghanistan claimed that Obama had told him, “The Taliban are not our enemies and we don’t want to fight them.”
Joe Biden had expressed similar thoughts, stating, “The Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical.” White House spokesman Jay Carney awkwardly defended Biden by arguing that the United States was fighting the Taliban, but was there to defeat Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda in Afghanistan however had already been defeated by Bush.
During the campaign and once in office, Obama had proposed outreach to the “moderate” Taliban. Biden estimated that only 5% of the Taliban were incorrigible while 70% and then another 25% could be reasoned with.
According to Biden, these Taliban were expected to end all ties with Al Qaeda, accept the Afghan constitution and offer equal treatment to women. Obama issued the same demand last year. The Taliban who hold strict religious beliefs about the evils of democracy and the inferiority of women did not rush to take Obama and Biden up on their offer.
Obama’s dual views of the Taliban made for an incompatible policy. When playing the role of commander, he delivers applause lines about “pushing the Taliban back” and large numbers of American soldiers were sent to Afghanistan. But the rest of the time he views the Taliban not as an enemy, but like Boko Haram or Hamas, as a group that is acting violently only because their legitimate political needs are not being met.
Some might say that it was as a commander that Obama sent Bowe Bergdahl to Afghanistan, but that it was as an appeaser that he brought him back. And yet both Obamas are the same man. Obama sent Bowe Bergdahl to Afghanistan for the same reason that he brought him back.
This is the discontinuity that bedevils modern liberal foreign policy which fights wars it does not believe in, rejecting war, while still attempting to use force as an instrument of diplomacy.
When Bush sent American soldiers off to war it was because he believed that there was a real enemy to fight. Obama, as we have seen, never believed that the Taliban were our enemy and his own intelligence people had told him that Al Qaeda only had a handful of fighters in Afghanistan.
Then why did he send thousands of American soldiers to die or be maimed fighting the Taliban?
The Afghan Surge had never been meant to defeat the Taliban. The American soldiers were there for political leverage while Hillary and Obama figured out how to seduce the Taliban into political participation. The military would batter away at the incorrigible 5% of the Taliban while a deal would be cut with the other 95%.
But the numbers didn’t hold up.
Obama had claimed that withdrawing from Iraq would force the Iraqis to work out their differences. It didn’t work in Iraq. By putting clear deadlines on the US presence in Afghanistan he hoped to pressure the Afghan government into becoming desperate enough to cut a deal with the Taliban. Instead he only made the Taliban aware that they had no reason to cut a deal because they could wait him out.
Like many peace initiatives with terrorists, the pressure used to convince another government to negotiate with the terrorists only succeeded in convincing the terrorists not to negotiate. Obama was recreating the Israeli-PLO Peace Process disaster, except that he was doing it using American, instead of Israeli, lives.
Obama and Hillary’s talk of an Afghan-led approach to reconciling with the Taliban completed the breach between the Afghan government and the US. By trying to play the middle man in a deal that no one wanted, Obama alienated the rest of the country. The US no longer had allies in Afghanistan. It only had enemies. The Green-on-Blue attacks increased dramatically. Even the people we were fighting alongside now saw Americans as the enemy.
Not only had Obama failed to turn the Taliban into friends, but he had turned friends into enemies.
Despite all the setbacks, Obama’s people continued to cling to the idea that trading Bowe Bergdahl for top Taliban commanders would open up the peace process. The idea was floated in 2011 and 2012 and set aside because of Republican opposition. Proponents of Taliban appeasement blamed the GOP for sabotaging the Qatar talks. They even suggested that Republicans wanted the war to drag on to damage Obama’s popularity rating.
Now that Obama has firmly embraced unilateral governance at home, the deal went through. He is determined to shut down the War on Terror, close Gitmo and end the War in Afghanistan before his term ends, but his policies have put the initiative into the hands of a rising network of Islamist groups, some openly associated with Al Qaeda, others more loosely aligned with its ideas.
Meanwhile the American people have been lied to about the war and the Bergdahl deal threatens to unravel some of those lies. Obama did not recommit to Afghanistan to defeat Al Qaeda, as he has claimed, but to engage the Taliban. The Bergdahl deal was a last ditch effort to revive a Taliban peace process that Obama believes will finally disprove the Bush approach to terrorism.
When Obama authorized the Bin Laden operation, he did so to arrest him and put him through a civilian trial in order to dismantle Gitmo. This perverse duality characterizes his entire approach to the War on Terror. A military tactic is joined to an anti-war aim. Force is used to prove that violence doesn’t work nearly as well as diplomacy and appeasement.
This is the disastrous policy that led to everything from the Bergdahl deal to the collapse of the US effort in Afghanistan.
Obama has spent far more time thinking how to win over the Taliban than how to beat them. It’s no wonder that the Taliban have beaten him instead.
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