The Taliban Cafe - War, Peace and Reconciliation
Today's good news from the New York Times - the Taliban has opened a political office in Qatar to recommence peace negotiations 18 months after it walked out of talks with the U.S., accusing it of negotiating in bad faith.
Today's bad news from the same source -"less than 24 hours after the Taliban opened [that] office . . . the Afghan government . . . backed away from even starting discussions with its adversaries and broke off talks on future military cooperation with the United States."
Then the Taliban killed four Americans.
PEACE TALKS AND HONOR CULTURES
The prerequisite for the commencement of open negotiations - a foundation for trust - has not yet been built despite three years of secret meetings and back channel ground work laid by the warring and allied parties.
Anyone seeking a better understanding of Middle East politics should be attending to the coverage of the Boston Mob Trial premised largely on organized crime's "honor culture" - a culture whose survival depends upon disproportionate responses to minor slights and border intrusions.
As Malcolm Gladwell explains in Outliers, where the rule of law is weak and the people nomadic and hence far from state-sponsored police power, the appearance of mutually assured destruction is the only way to keep one's family, one's tribe, or one's nation-state safe from attack. The Southern United States is also an honor culture, as are street gangs, men locked inside prisons and most criminal enterprises.
Why We Won't Soon Have a Taliban Restaurant
No matter how bleak the prospect of peace, history teaches us not only that it will arrive but that it will be quickly followed by forgiveness and reconciliation. Americans, short of historic wounds (African and Native American societies aside) forgive so quickly that war with foreign enemies is generally followed by reconstruction and an explosion of new restaurants opened by war-time refugees.
Italian, German, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese.
We even forgave the attack on Pearl Harbor. 9/11 will take a lot more time.
These are the peoples who the U.S. has so recently considered an existential threat to our way of life. But there's something about America - vital, fractious, transparent, tolerant, forgiving, and above all else, commercial, that allows us to set aside ancient grudges while dining on our former sworn enemies' cuisine.
The time has not yet come for the Taliban but there are good signals coming from the Middle East, like the recent election of a moderate Islamic President in Iran. Like the way the Taliban signalled a readiness to talk peace even while spinning its new office in a way that signalled a strike for legitimacy threatening to the Karzai-headed government. Hence, today's bad news right after the good. I understand, however, that the peace talks will nevertheless recommence, at least at this writing.
As much as we'd all like to believe that raw, brutal retaliation against our enemies is the only road to peace, decades long hurting stalemates of the type we've been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan can only be broken by the first gilimmerings of enlightened self-interest.
What We Can Do
It may take 20 years or 40, but rest assured, our grandchildren or their children will one day be dining at the Taliban Cafe.
As the great conflict resolution resource, Beyond Intractbility explains,
Eventually, conflicts reach a point at which a sort of equilibrium sets in, in which neither side is getting any closer to achieving its goals and which no one is happy with the situation. They come to realize that the costs of continuing the struggle exceed (oftentimes greatly exceed) the benefits to be gained. This is the situation known as the "mutually hurting stalemate" which is often ripe for the introduction of proposals for settlement.
That's not prescriptive. It's descriptve. It's what we do.
At a recent dispute resolution training at a troubled non-profit organization, one of the managers asked this question - "is the solution sometimes to simply let the organization fail?"
A great question and one with a rare "yes" or "no" answer.
Yes, it's sometimes necessary for the old order to fail so that a new order can spring up in its place. Eventually, we will all give up out-sized retaliatory responses to minor slights even though our own do not include (spoiler alert) killing a sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justice, attempting to assassinate the President of the United States, or blowing up an office of seven people to cover up the fact that you rigged the national election. (Scandal).
Try every negotiation tactic before you resort to retaliating against your own actual or presumed enemies and I'll meet you later at the Taliban Cafe.