Moderate Taliban an Oxymoron?

In my New Atlanticist piece “Who Are the ‘Moderate’ Taliban?,” I round up the reactions to President Obama’s weekend promise to “reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban” and note that they’re almost uniformly negative.

On the surface, “moderate Taliban” sounds as nonsensical are “nonviolent terrorist” or “tolerant Nazi.”

Still, as Steve Hynd recently pointed out, the term “Taliban” is tossed about so loosely these days as to be nearly bereft of meaning.  As AEI’s Frederick Kagan – hardly a peacenick — put it:

In general terms, any group that calls itself “Taliban” is identifying itself as against the government in Kabul, the U.S., and U.S. allies. Our job is to understand which groups are truly dangerous, which are irreconcilable with our goals for Afghanistan–and which can be fractured or persuaded to rejoin the Afghan polity. We can’t fight them all, and we can’t negotiate with them all. Dropping the term “Taliban” and referring to specific groups instead would be a good way to start understanding who is really causing problems.

One hopes — indeed, presumes — this is what Obama was getting at.  If so, he’s on the right track.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    I’m unconvinced, James. I’ve said it before and will say it again:

    It’s time we disabuse ourselves of the notion that this thing with radical Muslims is going to come to some kind of a mutually agreeable end, and that civilization is going to have any sway whatsoever over a band of people who insist on remaining in the fourteenth century, and who are, by their own words, quite willing to kill 1000 of their own for the purpose of killing one Jew, or one westerner, particularly Americans.

    Absent groups willing to stand up and forcefully identify themselves as not fitting that mold and then proving it by their actions, including putting down the groups that DO fit that mold, the idea of a moderate anything, here, is a pipe dream, and one that will quite probably get many of us killed, trying to pursue it.