Crocker: ‘I’m Very Much Okay With’ U.S.-Taliban Talks, ‘We’re Weakening Our Own Hand’ By Isolating Hezbollah

Today on C-Span’s Washington Journal, Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon, noted that last week he told a congressional committee that “it makes sense” for the U.S. “to engage” Hezbollah because the group “is not just a proxy for foreign governments in Damascus and Tehran,” but also it is “a uniquely Lebanese entity”:

CROCKER: We talk to virtually everyone in Lebanon but we don’t talk to Hezbollah. And I think we are weakening our own hand by not talking to them. We don’t know very much about them because we don’t deal with them directly. […] By talking to them we would learn a lot more and we might see some advantages that currently we are blind to.

The former U.S. Ambassador cited his experience talking to insurgents in Iraq as a model for engaging similar groups. “We talked to anyone who would talk to us and we didn’t worry about labels and…the influence we were able to bring as a result of that engagement was a big help in winding down the Iraqi insurgency,” he said. The host then wondered if his thinking extended to the Taliban in Afghanistan:

HOST: So you’re ok with the idea of us talking to the Taliban for instance in Afghanistan?

CROCKER: I’m very much ok with it because again this doesn’t mean making concessions or conferring recognition or anything else any more than it did when we talked to insurgent elements in Iraq. You can’t really affect your adversary’s thinking and you can’t build up your own knowledge base about your adversary if you’re existing in total isolation to him.

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The Washington Independent’s Spencer Ackerman reported last week that Crocker also said that fiery rhetoric toward U.S. adversaries has hurt American interests in Afghanistan, noting that President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech led the Iranians to release an anti-American insurgent leader from house arrest in Iran:

CROCKER: [I]t certainly changed the tone. And the key Iranian response to the “Axis of Evil” was to send Gulbuddin Hekmatyar back into Afghanistan. We had been talking to the Iranians up to that point about the possibility of Hekmatyar, who was under house arrest, being transferred to the Karzai government.

Because of the speech, Ackerman notes, “the Iranian leadership hedged its bets on cooperating with with the U.S. on post-Taliban Afghanistan and released a murderer back into the war zone.”