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October 2, 2006
Frist Didn't Surrender To The Taliban

An earlier AP report on Bill Frist and comments he made on the status of Afghanistan had some Republicans reaching for their hemlock, but as it turns out, Frist claims that the report misquotes his remarks. Here's what the AP reported:

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Monday that the Afghan guerrilla war can never be won militarily and called for efforts to bring the Taliban and their supporters into the Afghan government.

The Tennessee Republican said he had learned from briefings that Taliban fighters were too numerous and had too much popular support to be defeated by military means.

"You need to bring them into a more transparent type of government," Frist said during a brief visit to a U.S. and Romanian military base in the southern Taliban stronghold of Qalat. "And if that's accomplished we'll be successful." ...

The senator said he had been warned to expect attacks in Afghanistan to increase. There appears to be an "unlimited flow" of Afghans and foreigners, he said, "willing to pick up arms and integrate themselves with the Taliban."

He said the only way to win in places like Qalat is to "assimilate people who call themselves Taliban into a larger, more representative government."

Frist, however, calls foul at his VOLPAC blog after I contacted his office this afternoon to get a confirmation of his remarks:

I’m currently overseas visiting our troops in Afghanistan, but I wanted to take a moment to address an Associated Press story titled, “Frist: Taliban Should Be in Afghan Gov’t.” The story badly distorts my remarks and takes them out of context.

First of all, let me make something clear: The Taliban is a murderous band of terrorists who’ve oppressed the people of Afghanistan with their hateful ideology long enough. America’s overthrow of the Taliban and support for responsible, democratic governance in Afghanistan is a great accomplishment that should not and will not be reversed.

Having discussed the situation with commanders on the ground, I believe that we cannot stabilize Afghanistan purely through military means. Our counter-insurgency strategy must win hearts and minds and persuade moderate Islamists potentially sympathetic to the Taliban to accept the legitimacy of the Afghan national government and democratic political processes.

National reconciliation is a necessary and an urgent priority … but America will never negotiate with terrorists or support their entry into Afghanistan’s government.

So what happened? I think that someone confused "Taliban" with "Taliban supporters" at some point, and whether that was Frist or the reporter will probably remain a point of contention between the two. At any rate, Bill Frist is not calling for the return of the Taliban and an end to democracy in Afghanistan.

However, it does bring up an important point about the eventual end game in Afghanistan. If we want a representative democracy in Afghanistan, it will probably be heavily influenced by the Pashtuns, who have a strong Islamist bent. They did, after all, push the Taliban into power. At some point, we have to find a way to convince these Islamists to buy into democracy, and we have to be willing to allow that democracy to develop its own laws and customs. Otherwise, we will have to prop up a strongman who can keep the Pashtuns oppressed, which will create an even greater Islamist impulse in Afghanistan.

I believe that is what Frist meant, however awkwardly it was put -- and Allahpundit at Hot Air has a point regarding that. In the end, that's just common sense. Democracy brings people the government they desire, in theory and in practice, and we need to convince the Pashtuns that such a structure will be responsive to their goals as well as those of the other tribal communities in Afghanistan. Only democracy protects the minority from the majority, and only representative government gives people the free expression of their political will. We certainly will not convince the Pashtuns to cooperate in a democracy if we outlaw their expression of policy within a constitutional framework.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 2, 2006 5:49 PM

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» Frist Says Taliban Quote Was Out Of Context; America Will Never Negotiate With Terrorists from Stop The ACLU
Senator Frist is making it known that the earlier reports from the AP were taken out of context. I’m currently overseas visiting our troops in Afghanistan, but I wanted to take a moment to address an Associated Press story titled, “Frist: Taliban... [Read More]

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UPDATE: From MKH: From a spokesperson at Frist’s VOLPAC: The Senator was misquoted. We will have a blog post addressing the AP story very shortly. Hmm, I’m gonna need a pretty good explanation on this one, but check the VOLPAC blog for upda... [Read More]

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Tracked on October 4, 2006 11:25 AM


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