Romney camp gets tripped up by Afghanistan

U.S. military and intelligence officials agree that talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan are not only unavoidable, but also worthwhile. Such negotiations are critical to establishing some semblance of stability to the country, and while the right may resist this, among most leading officials, including David Petraeus, this is simply an obvious fact.

With this realization in mind, the Obama administration is ready to defend talks that may seem distasteful. Indeed, Vice President Biden caused a stir yesterday with his comments to Newsweek about the Taliban.

“Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests. If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us. So there’s a dual track here:

“One, continue to keep the pressure on al Qaeda and continue to diminish them. Two, put the government in a position where they can be strong enough that they can negotiate with and not be overthrown by the Taliban. And at the same time try to get the Taliban to move in the direction to see to it that they, through reconciliation, commit not to be engaged with al Qaeda or any other organization that they would harbor to do damage to us and our allies.”

Mitt Romney’s campaign quickly pounced, calling Biden’s comments “an outrageous affront to our troops.”

The rhetoric is predictable, but there’s a problem. The Romney campaign not only disagrees with the Vice President, it also disagrees with the Romney campaign.

James Shinn is Mitt Romney’s top foreign policy advisor on Afghanistan. He’s also a former assistant secretary of defense for Asia in the Bush administration who helped write the Bush administration’s Afghan Strategy Review, as well as having served in the State Department and the CIA.

And as it turns out, Romney’s top foreign policy advisor on Afghanistan happens to agree with Biden’s line about talks with the Taliban. In June, Shinn endorsed direct negotiations with the Taliban, and in August, Shinn endorsed “a negotiated settlement” with the Taliban, which would give them a formal role in the Afghan government. “Negotiation does not represent an easy or early way out of Afghanistan for the United States and its NATO allies, but it is the only way in which this war is likely to end,” he argued.

What are the foreign policy differences between what Joe Biden said and what Romney’s top foreign policy advisor on Afghanistan said? There are no differences.

I’ll look forward to the Romney campaign explaining why its own foreign policy is misguided.