QALAT, Afghanistan—U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said Monday that the war against Taliban guerrillas in Afghanistan could never be won militarily, and he urged support for efforts to bring "people who call themselves Taliban" into the government.
Frist said he learned from military briefings that Taliban fighters were too numerous and had too much popular support to be defeated on the battlefield.
"You need to bring them into a more transparent type of government," he said during a visit to a military base in the Taliban stronghold of Qalat. "And if that's accomplished, we'll be successful."
And Frist is not alone in his views:
Sen. Mel Martinez (R) of Florida, who was traveling in Afghanistan with Frist, said that negotiations with the Taliban were not "out of the question." But he added that he thought Taliban fighters who did not want to be a part of the political process would have to be defeated militarily.
Ed Morrissey of the conservative blog Captain's Quarters writes that he feels someone confused "Taliban" with "Taliban supporters" and "whether that was Frist or the reporter will probably remain a point of contention between the two." But he also says that the Frist incident does bring up an important point about "the 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."
Such is the nature of conservative "principles."