Is Gordon Brown mad?

December 12, 2007

Or just a spineless fool? Is Britain about to negotiate with the Taliban?

Six years after British troops were first deployed to oust the Taliban regime, the Prime Minister believes the time has come to open a dialogue in the hope of moving from military action to consensus-building among the tribal leaders. Since 1 January, more than 6,200 people have been killed in violence related to the insurgency, including 40 British soldiers. In total, 86 British troops have died. The latest casualty was Sergeant Lee Johnson, whose vehicle hit a mine before the fall of Taliban-held town of Musa Qala.

The Cabinet yesterday approved a three-pronged plan that Mr Brown will outline for security to be provided by Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and the Afghan national army, followed by economic and political development in Afghanistan.

But the intention to engage Taliban leaders in a constructive dialogue, which Mr Brown will make clear in a parliamentary statement today, will be by far the most controversial element of the plan. A senior Downing Street source confirmed the move last night and one Brown aide who accompanied the Prime Minister on his recent visit to Kabul, said: "We need to ask who are we fighting? Do we need to fight them? Can we be talking to them?"

If you don’t know whom we’re fighting after six years, pal, there’s no hope.

The Taliban are allied with al-Qaeda and have been since before 9-11. They are ideological soul-mates currently waging war not only against ISAF and the freely elected Afghan government in order to restore Dark Ages barbarism to that poor land, but also in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where they control roughly a quarter of the country. Before the liberation of Afghanistan, the Taliban refused to give up bin Laden. Since then, they have waged a war against modernity, attacking teachers and students, women who refuse to submit, and anything else that represents any hope for progress there.

This is a variation on the same failed British policy of cutting deals with local leaders that lead to Musa Qala’s fall in the first place: UK officers obtained promises from local elders to keep out the Taliban in return for being left alone, promises which rapidly proved worthless. While there has been some success convincing some marginal figures to lay down their arms, usually when they’ve had enough of being pounded by ISAF and the Afghan Army, the core of the Taliban are ideologically committed fanatics who will take any attempt to negotiate before they are thoroughly beaten as a sign of weakness. The recent success of the Petraeus strategy in Iraq illustrates this: as Victor Hanson points out, one of the major reasons the Sunni insurgents were finally willing to reconcile and cooperate with the central government was that we had killed a lot of them over three years and they had had enough. Sitting down to negotiate with them and wondering if "we need to fight them" before they had reached that point would have been fruitless.

Bin Laden famously spoke of people preferring the strong horse to the weak horse. The transformation in Anbar and the rest of Iraq happened only after the non-al Qaeda rebels realized we were the "strong horse." Gordon Brown’s new policy, on the other hand, makes our side look like a horse with emphysema.

LINKS: More at The Tank and Britain and America.

SECOND THOUGHT: Maybe Mr. Brown’s newfound faith in negotiation with a fascist enemy has something to do with the decline of Britain’s military under him and his predecessor.