Honor Holbrooke: “Stop This War in Afghanistan“

When a member of Congress dies, sometimes other members name a bill after him or her that advances some cause with which he or she identified. So, for example, we had the “Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act” – Kennedy was a champion of volunteer service.

This tradition has multiple effects. Of course, it honors the departed. But, like the Spanish hero El Cid, whose companions suited him up and placed him on his horse to drive off their foes, it also gives the departed one last ride into battle. When you name something the “Our Esteemed Colleague Who Just Passed” Act, you’re laying down a challenge – don’t leave this one on the cutting room floor. And everyone gets to cheat death a little by giving the departed one last accomplishment associated with that person’s name.

The uncompleted challenge of Richard Holbrooke’s diplomatic career was a peace deal in Afghanistan. It was the hope of many that Holbrooke would help broker a peace deal, between the warring factions in Afghanistan and between their regional patrons, that would end the war. This hope was encouraged by Holbrooke’s role in negotiating the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia.

This unfinished business was apparently very much on Holbrooke’s mind as he was being prepared for a surgery from which, presumably, he had some inkling that he might not return.

“You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” Holbrooke said, according to family members.

Are peace talks to end the war a pipe dream? Not according to many Afghanistan experts with decades of experience in the country.

In a letter to President Obama, the experts argue that with Pakistan’s active support for the Taliban, it is not realistic to bet on a military solution, and that since the Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate, it is in our interest to talk to them.

The experts ask President Obama to “sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan.”

The signers of the letter include people whose names one sees regularly cited as experts on Afghanistan in major US media: Ahmed Rashid, Gilles Dorronsoro, Anatol Lieven and Alex Strick van Linschoten. That they are experts with many years of experience in Afghanistan does not prove that they are right; it proves that their proposal deserves a fair hearing.

This week finds us at another fork in the road, as the administration reviews its Afghanistan policy one year after the last major decision to escalate militarily. The Pentagon has lobbied hard for this review to not have any meaningful policy consequences; it would be a grave mistake to allow the Pentagon to dictate this approach. The failure of military escalation to produce any meaningful positive result should have the consequence that the administration moves much more aggressively to support meaningful peace talks with the Afghan Taliban leadership and the Pakistani military to end the war.

Suit Holbrooke up in his armor and place him on his horse. We need real peace talks now.