Shades of Manucher Ghorbanifar!
Ghorbanifar, of course, was the legendary faker who pretended (during the hilariously misguided Iran/Contra affair in the mid-1980s) to be an Iranian intermediary or spy of some sort who could help release American hostages held in Lebanon, and who turned out to be a fraud, or an Israeli spy, or something or other—but who certainly wasn’t what he said he was.

Maybe the fake Taliban member who swindled President Karzai and General Petraeus earlier this year was Ghorbanifar! In a fake Taliban beard and turban! Or maybe, whoever he was, he’ll turn up in Los Angeles this week peddling a reality show to the producers of Sarah Palin’s Alaska. Or maybe he’s a stand-up comic in Quetta, Pakistan, who keeps Mullah Omar rolling in the aisles with his bon-mots about how stupid the Crusader-Zionist alliance is, and then one day said: "You know, Omar, I can make them look silly!"

He did.

In a stunning revelation that ought to be fatally embarrassing to the Obama administration and its "AfPak" task force—even now conducting the promised, year-end review of a bungled war—the Washington Post and the New York Times, along with the AP, report that person who carried out secret talks with Karzai, the Afghans, and the United States this past summer was a phony. Reports the AP:

A man leading the Taliban side of peace talks with the Afghan government was an impersonator, an Afghan close to the negotiations said Tuesday, an embarrassing revelation for Afghan officials who have promoted reconciliation efforts as the best chance for ending the war.

Adds the Times:

For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

The Times quotes a Western diplomat: "And we gave him a lot of money."

Count me among the fooled. Of course, I relied on Petraeus et al., who said that NATO had helped fly important Taliban leaders to Kabul for talks. But for Petraeus, the tip off should have been the absurdly modest "demands" of the fake "Taliban leader." Instead of asking for a share of government power in Kabul and the withdrawal of US and NATO forces, the phony Mansour just asked "that the Taliban leadership be allowed to safely return to Afghanistan, that Taliban soldiers be offered jobs, and that prisoners be released." Umm, no.

The thing is, there’s no way out of Afghanistan short of talking with the Taliban. But, as I’ve noted repeatedly, that means engaging not just with some fly-by-night "intermediary," Ghorbanifar-style, but getting the core Taliban council and its Pakistani backers in the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, involved. The worrying thing, even in the early reporting of the purported talks, was that Pakistan was being cut out—and that would never work.

Meanwhile, unless he wants to be a laughingstock, Obama has to fire everyone involved in this charade.

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