Obama’s real failure: His reluctance to talk to the Taliban

Peter Beinart writes: There are three kinds of critiques of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. The first comes from the left, from commentators like Glenn Greenwald who claim Obama has embraced the architecture of George W. Bush’s war on terror: unlawful spying, unlawful detention, unlawful drone attacks, cozy relations with dictators. The second comes from the right, from hawks who believe Obama has appeased anti-American tyrants in Syria, Russia, and Iran, while retreating from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and thus weakening American credibility. The third, and least discussed, comes from foreign-policy professionals, including those within Obama’s administration. Ideologically, it’s harder to classify. These professionals argue that in his zeal to focus on domestic policy, and to avoid risky foreign-policy fights, the president simply hasn’t invested the time and political will to effectively wield American power.

One purveyor of this third critique is Obama’s former envoy to Syria, Robert Ford. When Republicans attack the administration’s Syria policy, they mostly focus on Obama’s decision to declare Syrian chemical weapons a “red line,” and then fail to act militarily when Bashar al-Assad crossed it, allegedly making America look weak. Ford’s critique is different. This week — in a public break with his former boss — he argued that by not aiding Syria’s rebels when they initially took up arms, before jihadists became a dominant force in the armed opposition, Obama squandered an opportunity to pressure Assad into a diplomatic deal. Unlike Republican politicians, who want to paint Obama as a wimp for not launching missile strikes in the country, Ford’s critique is that the president — in his desire to avoid getting sucked into a messy and risky civil war—proved too passive not only militarily, but diplomatically as well.

Ford’s criticism echoes one leveled by another former Obama State Department official, Vali Nasr, in his book The Dispensable Nation. In recent days, Republicans have flayed the White House for “negotiating with terrorists” in order to secure the Taliban’s release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. But Nasr, who worked under special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, maintains that Obama’s failure was to not negotiate with the Taliban enough. Like Ford, he thinks Obama’s main problem was not his refusal to stand up to America’s enemies, but his refusal to engage them the right way. [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “Obama’s real failure: His reluctance to talk to the Taliban

  1. Norman

    Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. There is no win-win for the “O”. In the end, if there’s anyone left to write about it, truth be known, it’s the politicians of both houses, that have caused this “Clusterfuck” in the foreign relations/actions taken by the U.S.Military.

  2. josieamilburn

    Mr. Nasr’s critique, in my opinion, not from a position of power or proximity to the powers that be, but from being a citizen of the United States interested in the welfare of the people, is a policy that would keep the world in an “ever ending” state of war and fatigue. Hillary Clinton has a chip on her shoulder and would be a disaster as far as I am concerned, as President. Mr. Nasr, it would seem is of the cloth that sees a narrow vision of the world which will go on for centuries after he and we are gone. He sees only American exceptionism, American superpower, American intervention as the answer to everything. How very narrow and bigoted. America is a strong nation because the people are strong. Obama is aware of that. And the people are strong when they can get up in the morning and look forward to a good day, when there is a job to go to, where their children are safe and have a future to look forward to, when they know the rest of the world is having a good day and their children are safe. And this, I believe, comes about when we allow the rest of the world to grow up, as we had to and means the world will make many mistakes until they do. We can stand by and advise and caution, but it is time to mind our own business. Not an isolationists, but as respectful and honest neighbors. Hopefully, one day, the world will see us not as the guy who will always pick up the tab for their unrest, but will insist that when these other entities have a problem they will seriously attempt to settle that problem as did Martin Luther King and Ghandi. It may take more time, but in the end, it’s worth it. I see no King or Ghandi on the horizon in either party. A great pity.

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