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October 30, 2008

Journalist embeds with the Taliban, Bing West can't handle the truth

The military spends hundreds of millions of dollars on spying drones to monitor Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

Thanks to journalist Nir Rosen, they can get a first hand look at the inner workings of the Taliban for about four bucks (the cover price of Rolling Stone) or even for free on the internet.

Some people are never satisfied. And by "some people," I mean Bing West.

West is outraged that Rosen embedded with Taliban fighters. The retired Marine and counterinsurgency expert thinks it's unpatriotic for a journalist to cover both sides of a conflict.

West twists Rosen's words to make him sound like an apologist for the Taliban. He claims that Rosen sees the Taliban as a bunch of freedom fighting bumpkins against warlords: "Having told the reader what his intent was, Rosen described the Taliban as 'religious students who knew little about the rest of the world and cared only about liberating their country from oppressive warlords.'"

Here's the sentence West cherry picked:

"The Taliban — once an isolated and impoverished group of religious students who knew little about the rest of the world and cared only about liberating their country from oppressive warlords — are now among the best-armed and most experienced insurgents in the world, linked to a global movement of jihadists that stretches from Pakistan and Iraq to Chechnya and the Philippines."

So, Rosen actually believes that the Taliban are among the most dangerous jihadists in the world today.

West calls Rosen's story a "propaganda coup" for the Taliban. This is only a coup if the Taliban subscribes to the "I don't care what you say about us, just spell 'Taliban' right" school of PR.

Rosen's Taliban are cold-blooded killers who have never seen a toothbrush. 

One of the more sympathetic figures in Rosen's story is a Taliban fighter in a rhinestone-studded cap who claims to have personally executed some 200 "spies," mostly by beheading.

Even less endearing are the rival faction of Taliban who kidnap Rosen and hold him prisoner while they decide whether to behead him, hold him for ransom, or just slap him around to punish him for straying into their territory without permission.

At one point, Rosen refers to the Taliban fighters encroaching on Kabul as "barbarians at the gate."

This isn't what you'd call a puff piece.

What really irks West, I suspect, is Rosen's argument that the US must negotiate with the Taliban to end the occupation.

The fighters Rosen interviewed were more interested in getting foreigners out of their country than ushering in a new caliphate.   

Just to be clear, Rosen doesn't see the Taliban as freedom fighters. Once they kick out the foreigners, they plan to take over the government, and go back to taking other people's freedom away.

Rosen sees them as a collection of squabbling power-hungry factions that the US could play off one another.

He argues convincingly that the US should try to negotiate with the Taliban.

The Bush administration has neglected Afghanistan for years and the Taliban are simply too entrenched to be defeated by winning the hearts and minds of civilians in the cities, Rosen maintains.

It seems obvious to Rosen that the US will never defeat the Taliban militarily. So, negotiation strikes him as the only viable strategy, however unpalatable it may seem.

Rosen's opinions carry special weight because he has observed the facts on the ground.
It's telling that Bing West decided to attack Rosen patriotism rather than attempting to refute his arguments.


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» Thats What She Said from Prose Before Hos
I was a step ahead (though I had actually written the post about 2 weeks ago) in writing that the United States, NATO, and Afghani government should pursue diplomatic talks with the Taliban. And lo and behold, in todays New York Times, Afghanist... [Read More]


Ms Beyerstein,

You wrote: "What really irks West, I suspect, is Rosen's argument that the US must negotiate with the Taliban to end the occupation.". I believe you are 100% correct! And this fear of negotiation, I suspect, goes far beyond the Taliban. West's mentality is, I believe, precisely the mentality behind the ludicrous and simplistic attacks on Obama regarding who he would meet with, and under what preconditions, if any. They (the neocons, for lack of more precise answer) fear more than anything else, talking to Hamas, Hezbollah, the Syrians, North Koreans, as well as the Taliban.

I think all Afghanis,
Dari-speakers (almost identical with Farsi and Tajik) or Pashto speakers,
should risk life and limb, even be eager to sacrifice themselves to defend the Durand Line.

What British Knight isn't qualified to draw borders?

As for Nir Rosen, I believe this article suffers from the same amount of bias, in the reverse direction, of administration officials. It is helpful to get another perspective from the constant rose-colored-glasses view of the Bush team, but there is really no reason to believe the hype of the Taliban fighters hype any more than Bush.

The biggest (relatively) unknown thing about Afghanistan. Back when it was a Monarchy, the Afghans fomented Pathan/Pushtun/Pashto nationalism in the FATA and NWFP. The Pakistanis eventually pushed back by fomenting Islamic identity politics in the Pashto-speaking areas of Afghanistan. Who can dominate the border regions? A question Empires ask.

Complicating matters is India. The Indo-Pakistani rivalry is well known, and it extends (at least to some degree) to the Pathan situation. Karzai is, by birth, Pathan, but not from the old school, pro-India and therefore alienating Pakistan.

From what I read, the "problem" of the Taliban is co-extensive and co-equal with the Pashto speaking population. From what I read, the Pathans are the largest population on the planet (25 millions) without their own country. The Kurds (roughly 20 millions) are second. The Quechua might be third, but, then again, they are spread out in pockets, and I don't even know much mutual intelligibility there is.

I got world peace comin' out my ears, and it sounds of the neighbor's bed slamming into the wall coming in.

I haven't read either article yet, but will agree with Bing West's suggestion that we send our armies to fight and kill and die, to take land or take it back, not to be police or an occupying force in other countries.

That said, his mindset is common enough in the GOP. They believe our problem is that we aren't killing enough people. We need to "go Roman" as so many of them like to put it.

On the other hand, the general attitude in the Democratic Party reminds me of the British Empire - let's keep the troops there, but don't let them kill too many wogs; it makes us look bad, and feel worse.

Where the hell can an anti-imperialist go? Ron Paul? Gahhh! He's right on anti-imperialism, but God forbid. The man's a nut. The enemy of my enemy is NOT my friend - as our current foreign adventures have proved once again.

Josh, I say bugger the Durand line and let the Pathans hash it out. United Pathanistan? North and South Pathanistan? Fine. Whatever. Work it out amongst yourselves and with the neighbors, come to the UN when you're done. And if anybody comes around offering arms in trade for opium or anything, you can have them. The gunrunners, that is, not the guns. Just send along any ID they're foolish enough to carry so that we can inform the next of kin.

This is funny.

In the late 1990s, the main people who cared about the taliban were:

1. Feminists

2. Big oil companies

3. A few reporters, like Peter Arnett


There is actually an article in a newspaper from the late 1990s (maybe 2000) about a meeting between some Texas oil people and members of the Taliban... the oil guy says something like 'once you get to know them, they arent bad people at all'.

Why all this? The oil dudes wanted to make money off of shipping oil through afghanistan... and the taliban was the closest thing to a government there, so they figured, do a deal with the taliban, get the oil.

Sorta like they had done deals with the Burma dictators to get oil there, etc etc etc.

The argument amongst many was that, hey, we are 'growing their economy', that will somehow magically bring freedom and human rights. An interesting theory...

i like how theories dont always fit together, especially inside a political 'group', like 'conservatives' (whatever that means)....

you got a lot of people saying its OK to go do deals with baddies, you got to look at the big picture, whether its oil production, or stopping the cold war, or whatever (Spreading Democracy?????)

then you got peopel saying, its never ok. example, you got this guy going after this journalist dude for 'embedding' with taliban. well, we 'embedded' with folks like them for years against the soviets. . . .

im just having a lot of problems figuring out right from wrong these days... just having a lot of problems. i think its funny, though, to watch people go apes*** over each others actions, when the problems of philosophy and logic are so glaring.....

oh yeah.

feminists - they had a serious problem with taliban treatment of women, like banning girls from school. there was an organization (is?) called RAWA, its founder was killed by the taliban, they tried to teach girls in 'underground' schools. feminists were talking about this stuff way before 9/11, but their arguments basically got hijacked as justifcation for military force...

peter arnett - he interviewed bin ladin in the 1990s. . . in his book, his rather unforgettable book, he is wanderound afghanistan in the late 1990s, and ends the chapter with something like 'we will have to go back there'... the dude could see the future basically.

then the tailwind thing happpened... then supposedly he works for some brit tabloid... fired by national geographic... but where is he now?

The Peter Arnett interview is a bit of a joke, no? Americans seem to trumpet it because he is American, and it all toes the official line.

Arnett doesn't speak Arabic, he didn't have Usama's answers translated in real time.

Robert Fisk and Usama have spoken more than once, including Osama's last interview. A lot of people have an entirely unfair view of Mr. Fisk, who does disagree with U.S. foreign policy.

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