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POLITICS: White House

Negotiations with Taliban likely to succeed only when they are defeated

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,White House,Michael Barone,Barack Obama,Afghanistan

The United States is now engaged in negotiations with the Taliban, as the Washington Examiner reports. How successful are these likely to be? Useful guidance comes from the 2009 book by John Bew, Martyn Frampton and Inigo Gurruchaga, Talking to Terrorists: Making Peace in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country. The claim is often made, notably by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, that you have to talk to terrorists in order to get them to make peace. Bew, Frampton and Gurruchaga agree, but only up to a point. They recount the long negotiations between the British government and Northern Ireland terrorists and the Spanish government and the Basque terrorists, and conclude that negotiations–talking–can lead to peace, but only after the terrorists come to believe that they cannot achieve their goals. The government must win, and win clearly, first, and only then can negotiations work.

Since Barack Obama has ordered that United States forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, it doesn’t seem likely that the Taliban believe they have been defeated and cannot possibly achieve their goals. If that’s the case, talking is not likely to produce the outcome the United States wants.

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