Bill Frist Offers Olive Branch to the Taliban?


Some are critiquing Senator Bill Frist’s comments that “people who call themselves Taliban” should be brought into the Afghan government.
If Frist actually made these comments, the rationale is exactly the same that many have argued about Hamas and Hezbollah. So, on some level, Frist articulating the need for “political” solutions to some of the more vexing standoffs in the region can be considered progress.
The problem, however, is that the Taliban are not Hamas or Hezbollah and that these latter two political entities have not become popular in their states by terrorizing their own people. Hamas and Hezbollah’s legiitimacy has several prongs — helping to enhance the quality of life of their constituents, delivering various public services, rallying against Israel and perceived grievances about occupied lands and displaced Muslims, and an Islamist religious ethic.
However, to my knowledge, neither Hamas nor Hezbollah have created a tyranny over their own people of the sort that the Taliban clearly did. Also, neither Hamas nor Hezbollah provided the incubation chamber and helped hatch bin Laden’s brand of radical transnational terrorism directed at Western nations and ruling regimes in the Middle East. Some will counter that the Muslim Brotherhood is the link here and that the Brotherhood has indeed tried to destabilize the governments in Egypt, Jordan, and even Syria — but their efforts have had none of the potency of what bin Laden allied with the Taliban created.
So, what is Bill Frist thinking?
Although I think that Senate Majority Leader Frist would be an awkward choice to reflect a new course in the Bush administration’s thinking, there is the small chance that Bill Frist is sending signals to the Taliban that America wants to “deal.”
Such a deal would no doubt involve coughing up bin Laden and his operations. The deal would also probably involve some assistance if America decides to attack Iran.
I have thought for a while that the dearth of options for diplomacy with Iran required an arena for confidence building in some area not directly between America and Iran, but on the side. One of these would be Iran coming back to help the Karzai government stabilize Afghanistan and to find a way to co-opt or neutralize recalcitrant Afghan tribal chiefs and to curb and roll back expanding Taliban influence. Such assistance from Iran would not only be in Iran’s strategic interests — but would be in ours as well and could provide some node of embryonic trust from which other negotiations might be possible.
However, if such an accomodation with Iran is not worth pursuing, then allying with strong parties in Afghanistan might make sense — even if as disagreeable as the Taliban.
I don’t endorse this strategy, if it is such. And I have my doubts that Bill Frist really wanted to offer an olive branch to the Taliban and its adherents.
It could be he just misspoke. But if he stands by his comments, Frist’s words have big implications for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas — in different ways.
Stay tuned.
— Steve Clemons

Senator Frist’s office sent me this clarification of the Senate Majority Leader’s comments. This sounds sensible to me:

Contacts: Amy Call and Carolyn Weyforth
October 2, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Amy Call, Communications Director for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., (R-Tenn.), issued the following statement regarding the majority leader’s comments in Afghanistan as reported by the Associated Press:
“While touring Afghanistan, Senator Frist made the observation that Afghan tribesman should be brought into the government or risk losing them to the Taliban. Giving the native tribes often targeted by Taliban recruitment a voice in the government will promote peace and prosperity in the region. Senator Frist does not believe Taliban fighters – often foreign fighters who come to Afghanistan to further conflict – should be brought into the reconciliation process.
“In order to undermine the influence of the Taliban in Afghan society, Senator Frist believes there needs to be a multi-pronged approach to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. Military efforts must continue in earnest to capture and kill the leadership of the Taliban and al-Qa’ida, who continue to pose a
grave threat to Afghanistan and the world.
“The long-term peace and security of Afghanistan depends upon the ability of the government, lead by President Karzai, to establish a political order in which the radical totalitarian ideology of the Taliban is rejected in favor of liberty, democracy, and the rule of law.”
Senator Frist and Senator Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) spent the day in Kabul and Qalat, Afghanistan, where they had the opportunity to meet with President Hamid Karzai, visit a local hospital, greet American troops and receive briefings from military personnel.
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10 comments on “Bill Frist Offers Olive Branch to the Taliban?

  1. wow power leveling says:

    you’re going to dish dirt on me you’ll need to be original. I have already written a book about my felonious past. I outed myself, so to speak so there is nothing revelatory about these so-called factoids. The book is called News Junkie. It was published last week.


  2. Pissed Off American says:

    “Hey, any chance of talkin’ you guys into hitting us again before November???”


  3. Carroll says:

    Burn Washington to the Ground and Start Over…and I mean it seriously this time.
    How much universal meddling and how many fuckup’s does it take to get to the end? The US was not elected by anyone to “impose” democracy on the world and only the naive think the motivation of groups behind all this has anything to do with “human rights”.
    Afghanistan check
    Iraq check
    Lebanon check
    Iran next
    Cuba next
    Venezuela next
    All of the ME and Latin America?
    North Korea?
    How about Russia and China..?
    The world needs to pull the plug on us now for our own good before we sucide ourselves.


  4. Carroll says:

    This seems to be Frist’s poor imitation of the realist’s calls for “talking to the enemy”.
    But using the Taliban?..why would they not, we are using other unsavory groups like the MEK to do dirty work. Besides if we armed them, trained them and let them do the wet work, we can always go back and start another war to get rid of them. That seems to be the US pattern.


  5. bob mcmanus says:

    Sure we would accept Taliban assistance in a war against Iran, or at least assistance in calming Afghanistan.
    I read this stuff like tea leaves and entrails. Even if Steve doesn’t know more than he is saying, he probably has intuitions and guesses and conclusions from the demeanor of contacts.


  6. Aunt Deb says:

    I find it extremely hard to believe Hamid Karzai would support this.


  7. Jay C says:

    Personally, I don’t know exactly which explanation to apply in this case to the appalled horror reaction I had to reading this bit about Sen. Frist’s little diplomatic “overture”. Was it about the hideous cynicism of pitching for the inclusion in Afghanistan’s Government of the despotic, fanatic tyranny we spent time, money and blood to overthrow less than five years ago? Or was it the sheer stupidity of an influential US Senator thinking that the Taliban should be treated like just another political party and pushed into a coalition (with their sword blood enemies?)?
    Great choices here: bad, worse, worst, or Frist.


  8. Keith Porter says:

    What is interesting to me is that in the Iowa first congressional district, the Republican (Mike Whalen) is running a commercial critical of the Democrat (Bruce Braley) for saying that the Taliban should be part of the peace talks in Afghanistan.
    Bill Frist may really be on to something here. But he is way off message with the rest of his party!


  9. Punchy says:

    Mr Clemons opines:
    “The deal would also probably involve some assistance if America decides to attack Iran.”
    There’s not a chance in hell our politicans will allow us to accept “assistance” from the Taliban. That would be political suicide. Siding with the very people so incredibly (and rightly) demonized in the U.S.? Absolutely the Republican’s deathknell were they to attempt it…


  10. Matthew says:

    Oh, well, it’s only taken 5 years and fewer than 3000 war dead for the GWOT to degenerate into cynical maneuvering worthy of a Renaissance Doge. We must really want that pipeline through Afghanistan. I wonder what the 9/11 and Tillman families will make of this.


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