Notes on an American Betrayal

Negotiating with the Taliban now would be both misguided and insulting.

This week it was announced that the first exchange of negotiations between the U.S. State Department and the Taliban will proceed since the war in Afghanistan began. The Taliban have set up a base in the Qatari city of Doha as a platform for negotiations, which they have labelled as the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’, the name the organization used when they held power in Afghanistan, much to the enragement of the Karzai government. I must say that I am baffled: why is it, that instead of negotiating with the emissaries of the Taliban, we aren’t instead levelling this base and capturing all of those inside?

The U.S. has often throughout its history been accused, from Jefferson onwards, of trying to fight the world’s monsters. This criticism is obviously fatuous (should you make friends with monsters, or aide them in being monstrous?), but if we apply the same rhetoric to the context of the U.S. State Department’s comments this week, we’ve wounded a monstrous foe, and now we’re handing it a Band-Aid. Since when has it been acceptable to negotiate with Islamic extremists and terrorists?


It isn’t as if the Taliban have had a sudden ideological change of heart to prompt such a desire for breaking deals: there seems to be no compromise on the issue that only an ‘Islamic system’ and a ‘pure Islamic government’ will be up to scratch for them, as The Telegraph has reported.  Capitulation to this kind of non-compromise in any potential talks of negotiation could revert every attempt at stabilizing Afghanistan and the eradication of exactly the kind of extremism that this ‘Islamic system’ supports. The Taliban still will refuse to sever ties to al-Qaeda, and will also refuse to accept the Karzai government; and the U.S. is fine with all of this, happy to head to the negotiating table in spite of these seemingly nonnegotiable tenets.

I can at some level sympathize why it is the case that the U.S. are hurrying into negotiations: the last of U.S. forces are set to be pulled out of Afghanistan by the end of next year, and many U.S. officials hold the opinion that the moment these forces are removed, the Taliban will regain instant control of much of the Afghan region. But as Con Coughlin writes in this piece for The Telegraph, ‘Consequently, any deal made over the future of Afghanistan will be one that suits the Taliban’s interests, rather than those of the millions of Afghan civilians we have been fighting to protect.’  I agree that this is what will follow; the most nihilistic of consequences, and a complete veto on all of the small progress made over the last 12 years. The meaning of the word ‘negotiation’ suggests that both sides have something to offer the other; this couldn’t be further from the truth. Any deal-breaking will amount to a concession to fanatical thugs, and making such a concession is not the way to keep the U.S. and Britain as convincing and tenable authorities on the world stage, particularly when other rising powers are still actively supporting global terrorism.

It is no hyperbole to say that this statement to begin negotiations with the Taliban is a huge betrayal to a number of different groups,

Women being beaten by Taliban
Women being beaten by Taliban

and it is beyond question that the most significant betrayal of all is to the many men and women who have died at the hands of the forces of the Taliban since September 11th 2001 (the date I think anyone with a shred of respect will acknowledge as the start of the war in Afghanistan). Another serious betrayal is that these negotiations will almost certainly vindicate the often revolting forms that the ‘anti-war’ movement take (I find anti-war to be another fatuous term: I hope I need not explain why). And, the decision also betrays the support of those who think that negotiation with fundamentalist barbarism is no option at all.

Although I myself have been guilty of it throughout this article, I do not like referring to people like the Taliban as ‘terrorists’. It may only be a semantic contention, but there is a world of difference between terrorism and murder; you have all heard cliché sayings like ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’, and I would be inclined to agree: terrorism can be conducted for valiant causes and purposes. The Taliban are murderers, and are certainly not fighting for freedom (unless you could grant them another fatuity; ‘Islamic freedom’, which in reality would be only the right to re-subject the people of Afghanistan to the most fundamentalist reading of Islam possible). Peace is not desirable with these people.

It may be interesting to note that peace is not desired by much of the Taliban’s infantry either, particularly among the youngest recruits, who see themselves as having already lost far too much for mere bargaining with the Western infidels. The only way that any negotiations with the Taliban could be detrimental to the Taliban themselves, while working to the advantage of the Afghan people and the world at large, would be if the Taliban split into rival factions of those who wish to negotiate and those who do not, fighting each other for legitimacy. But even if this were to happen, it would most likely cost the lives of many innocent Afghans caught in the middle of the Taliban’s internal war. I would contend that it would still be a far less principled positive outcome than a refusal prima facie to enter negotiations at all until some serious concessions are made by the Taliban.

In closing, I take the U.S.’s desire for negotiations with the Taliban as an opportunity to reject the insight proclaimed by Friedrich Nietzsche, in arguably his best work, Beyond Good and Evil, that those who fight monsters shall become monsters themselves; while that may well have been the case at many points in the history of U.S. foreign policy, that game is not afoot here. The way to create something truly monstrous would be to pursue the path that has been suggested all the way to the negotiating table.

Richard Elliott


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