Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) would like America to come to terms with the prisoner swap in which the United States recovered Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban commanders. Even though, as The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake and Kimberly Dozier reported, American intelligence officials believe four of the five Taliban commanders will rejoin the fight against the United States and the friendly Afghan government, Speier said that their release from Guantanamo was inevitable.
The California congresswoman went on to observe that the language used when talking about this deal is unhelpful. Contradicting the White House, which conceded last week that members of the Taliban were added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in 2002, Speier expressed concern with the use of the term “terrorists.” She added that the Taliban, a group which the United States has fought the longest war in its history to overthrow, is “part of the fabric of Afghanistan.”
“We’re going to pay for this,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) warned on Tuesday, lamenting the precedent set by the United States negotiating a prisoner swap with a terrorist group.
“Let me underscore the term ‘terrorists,’” Speier told MSNBC’s Kristen Welker when asked for a response to Boehner. “The Taliban is a part of the fabric of Afghanistan.”
“They were part of the leadership of that country before we engaged there,” she noted. “We are now actively attempting to get the Taliban to negotiate with President [Hamid] Karzai and the Afghanistani government, because there will be some cooperation — some level of coordination between the two if that country is going to survive and move forward.”
This position, while perhaps indicative of the realpolitik American officials feel they must embrace in order to negotiate a swift withdrawal from Afghanistan, is also a repudiation of President Barack Obama’s promised approach to this war “of necessity.”
Among Obama’s sharpest critiques of George W. Bush was his indifferent approach to the Afghan theater. In the summer of 2008, Obama asked Americans to envision what the world would have been like had the United States taken a different approach to the post-9/11 environment.
“We could have deployed the full force of American power to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and all of the terrorists responsible for 9/11, while supporting real security in Afghanistan,” Obama said.
“I will make the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be,” the president continued. “This is a war that we have to win.”
While Obama adopted a more conciliatory tone toward the Taliban while in office, and campaigned on “a negotiated peace” with the insurgent group in 2012, that was not an unqualified offer. “We have made it clear that they can be a part of this future if they break with al Qaeda, renounce violence and abide by Afghan laws,” Obama said in May of that year.
Furthermore, Obama pledged in 2008 that his government would not negotiate with terrorists. “George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists,” Obama insisted. The least clever solution to this conundrum one could imagine would be to simply stop calling the Taliban terrorists, but times are tough.
Speier’s statement, while not reflective of official administration policy, suggests that the White House’s desire to seek a “negotiated peace” has evolved into the pursuit of an unconditional surrender.