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Taliban Tales
Bill and Mel's Excellent Adventure

Bill Frist's latest constituents
What the Soviets, British and Iranians discovered before them, Bill Frist and Mel Martinez—the Senate Majority Leader and the junior senator from Jebush Land—discovered on Tuesday, at least temporarily: The war in Afghanistan cannot be won militarily. So if you can’t beat them, have them join you—if they’ll have you. They were referring to the Taliban. Yes, Virginia, the Taliban—alleged arch-enemy of the United States since 9/11, and, as far as we know, still Osama’s landlords (in joint partnership with Herr Musharraf of Pakistan). Here’s how the Associated Press reported the awakening: “U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Monday that the Afghan war against Taliban guerrillas can never be won militarily and urged support for efforts to bring "people who call themselves Taliban" and their allies into the government. The Tennessee Republican said he learned from briefings that Taliban fighters were too numerous and had too much popular support to be defeated on the battlefield. […]Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican from Florida accompanying Frist on his trip, said negotiating with the Taliban was not "out of the question" but that fighters who refused to join the political process would have to be defeated."A political solution is how it's all going to be solved," he said.”

Maybe it was the mountain air (Frist and Mel were in Afghanistan, gathering election-year footage for future campaigns and escaping the GOP’s internecine war in Washington). Maybe it was the scent of poppies titillating their nostrils. Maybe it seemed as if dealing with the Taliban would be less troublesome than dealing with the mess Marc Foley left behind. But people who call themselves Republicans were immediately incensed: they have enough transgressors from the faith on their hands, they don’t need their chief cardinal to join the bacchanal. Someone must have let Frist know.

He replied with this, within hours of the Associated Press report: “The story badly distorts my remarks and takes them out of context. First of all, let me make something clear: The Taliban is a murderous band of terrorists who’ve oppressed the people of Afghanistan with their hateful ideology long enough. America’s overthrow of the Taliban and support for responsible, democratic governance in Afghanistan is a great accomplishment that should not and will not be reversed.” [never mind that it is being reversed, and so much for an on-the-ground fact-finding mission. But he then goes on to reaffirm exactly the spirit, if not the letter, of the AP story:] Having discussed the situation with commanders on the ground, I believe that we cannot stabilize Afghanistan purely through military means. Our counter-insurgency strategy must win hearts and minds and persuade moderate Islamists potentially sympathetic to the Taliban to accept the legitimacy of the Afghan national government and democratic political processes.” What’s the difference between a Talib and a “sympathizer”? Whatever happened to the with-us-or-against-us prism that informed all things Republican? And does Frist even know what a Talib is? He actually understates these guys’ barbarism: they’re as regressive as you get. They’re murderous.

If you have any doubts, here’s how Lawrence Wright relates the Taliban’s conquest of Mazar el Sharif in 1996: “Once inside the defenseless city, the Taliban continued raping and killing for two days, indiscriminately shooting anything that moved, then slitting throats and shooting dead men in the testicles. The bodies of the dead were left to wild dogs for six days before survivors were allowed to bury them. Those citizens who fled the city on foot were bombed by the Taliban air force. Hundreds of others were loaded into shipping containers and baked alive in the desert sun. The UN estimated that the total number of victims in the slaughter to be between five and six thousand people.” [From The Looming Tower, p. 268.] But then we get this little bit from a John Burns story in the New York Times back in 1996: “American officials emphatically deny the assertion, widely believed among the Taliban's opponents in Afghanistan, that the United States offered the movement covert support. American diplomats' frequent visits to Kandahar, headquarters of the Taliban's governing body, the officials insist, were mainly exploratory. In fact, American policy on the Taliban has seesawed back and forth. The Taliban have found favor with some American officials, who see in their implacable hostility toward Iran an important counterweight in the region. But other officials remain uncomfortable about the Taliban's policies on women, which they say have created the most backward-looking and intolerant society anywhere in Islam. And they say that the Taliban, despite promises to the contrary, have done nothing to root out the narcotics traffickers and terrorists who have found a haven in Afghanistan under the mujahedeen. In its most recent policy statement on Afghanistan, the State Department called on other nations to ''engage'' with the Taliban in hopes of moderating their policies.” So what are Frist and Martinez up to, if not warming-up the old bet-hedging and doing some exploratory “engaging” with the Taliban in hopes of moderating it toward a possible settlement?

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