Some foreign policy analysts are pedantic and boring. Some, while relatively more lively and interesting, make occasional mistakes and regret them. (I put myself in that category.) And some are just stupid, and wrong nearly all the time.
But Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute is in a category all to himself. Rubin, an upstart neoconservative who served in the Pentagon under Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, is not only wrong all the time, but he is so belligerent, bombastic and bloodthirsty about it that he is the a near-perfect think- tank equivalent of a serial killer.
It’s no secret that over the past several years, there have been on-again, off-again efforts to start a dialogue with the Taliban, including the leadership of the so-called Quetta Shura. In most of them, the Taliban’s former allies in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan have taken the lead in trying to bring the Taliban to the table, with modest support from the UK and France. The Karzai government in Afghanistan has been open to such talks, but until recently the United States has been staunchly opposed. That changed over the summer, as the Obama administration switched gears and sided with those who say that a negotiated deal with the Taliban is the only way out of the Afghan quagmire.
Rubin disagrees, and in doing so he sounds a bit like Arlo Guthrie in “Alice’s Restaurant,” who zealously told army recruiters “I wanna kill!” (In Rubin’s case, he means it.) Hyperbolically, Rubin goes as far as comparing the Taliban to the genocidal, Pol Po–led Khmer Rouge, who slaughtered millions. For Rubin, diplomacy is well and good, but only after the Taliban is utterly crushed militarily. He writes:
Diplomacy may be a tool in the American arsenal, but engagement is not cost-free. Reconciliation can work, but only after a decisive Taliban defeat: The only path to victory--and U.S. security--is to defeat the Taliban leadership, wherever they may be. Talking to the Taliban now is not an exit strategy; it is at best a diversion, and at worst a strategy for defeat.
And Rubin’s diatribe includes this gem, dragging out the absurd, neoconservative canard that America is ever willing to reward its enemies and spurn its allies:
Indeed, America's Afghan allies worry that Karzai, himself a former Taliban official, will sacrifice them on the altar of appeasement. "Once again, America rewards its enemies at the expense of its allies," a former cabinet member complained.
If the talks with the Taliban make any progress—and that’s not guaranteed—you can expect other diehard neoconservatives to weigh in with arch, Rubin-like denunciations, too. To be sure, there are a countless obstacles in the way of the current talks. The Karzai government, which is taking the lead, isn’t exactly a credible negotiating partner because it is so weak and disorganized. Pakistan, which has enormous influence over the Taliban, isn’t likely to let things move forward unless its paranoid view of its national interest in Afghanistan is protected. Non-Pashtun Afghans, including those allied to Iran, India and Russia, are already rearming in case whatever deal Karzai and the Taliban come up with seems a bridge too far. India, Pakistan’s rival, won’t easily let Islamabad get an advantage in Afghanistan 2.0, the regime that emerges after a settlement with the Taliban. And the United States, though apparently facilitating the high-level talks, does not appear to have a clear strategy going forward; above all, there’s little indication that the Obama administration is conducting the kind of intensive diplomacy it ought to with Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, China and other interested parties to make sure that the talks actually succeed.
But know-nothings like Rubin—and his ilk at The Weekly Standard, National Review, Commentary and other rags— are already squawking. There'll be more to come. The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.