The Taliban commander holding secret peace talks with Afghan leaders has turned out to be an impostor. The man had claimed to be Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, a high-level Taliban leader. But "it's not him," one Western diplomat told The New York Times, and the fact that "we gave him a lot of money" only adds to the embarrassment. The revelation is a setback to both NATO and the White House, who were encouraged by the Taliban's mere presence at the negotiating table. Could this set back the Obama administration's plan to begin troop withdrawals in July 2011? (Watch a PBS report about the Taliban impostor)
Our timeline to peace just got longer: Anyone who hoped for a quick end to this war should be "discouraged and, frankly, depressed," says Max Fisher at The Atlantic. The U.S. was "almost certainly" designing its plans for "impending military withdrawal" based on these negotiations. No wonder we've heard that the U.S. is now "quietly moving away from its planned 2011 draw-down to a much vaguer 2014 target." We're fighting a war "in which we can literally no longer recognize the enemy."
"If Taliban leader Mansour was fake, so were plans for peace"
Don't expect the U.S. to acknowledge this disaster: These talks were the basis for American optimism on the war, says Joshua Foust at Foreign Policy. Will this latest revelation force General David Petraeus to recognize that every major attempt "to break through the war's impasse in the last year" has failed? "Probably not." Instead, we'll go on believing our own spin, telling ourselves "the tide is turning, and the insurgency is breaking" even as the Taliban "laughs itself to tears."
"Fake Taliban, real embarrassment"
This faker isn't the only one cheating us: Doesn't it feel as if "the entire region is taking us for a ride?" asks Maureen Dowd at The New York Times. "Everybody is lining up for Western cash, treating America, the British and NATO like suckers." Karzai and his cronies "toy with us for their immense personal profit," and the Pakistani intelligence service and the Taliban are "playing us," too. When we're as "clueless about the culture" as we are, should we really be surprised?
"The great game impostor"
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