Re: Frist’s comments about the Taliban today

I’ve gotten lots of emails this afternoon about a comment Senator Bill Frist made today that has gotten so many conservatives up in arms that some are saying “I’ve had it – I’m leaving the GOP.”

Not so fast, now. I’ll explain more in a minute. First, the quote that has landed him in hot water:

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.”

Frist said asking the Taliban to join the government was a decision to be made by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican from Florida accompanying Frist, said negotiating with the Taliban was not “out of the question” but that fighters who refused to join the political process would have to be defeated.
“A political solution is how it’s all going to be solved” he said.

Check the trackbacks here to see a sampling of the outrage IHT’s story on his remarks rightly provoked.

Now here’s Frist’s clarified statement:

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 Ò€¦ but America will never negotiate with terrorists or support their entry into Afghanistan’s government.

Better, but still not good enough for some, who are threatening to leave the GOP – and in at least one instance I’ve read in the blogosphere, a blogger (the Commissar) is planning on voting Democratic this fall and explains why in his emotional post, some of which Army Lawyer takes issue with here. [Update: Commissar states in the comments that his post had nothing to do with Frist’s comment. Consider this a correction. However, as the trackbacks to Hot Air make clear, many are considering leaving the GOP, so the point about leaving the party stands].

For anyone still thinking Frist is a defeatist even after his clarification, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1) Frist is out after this year. He’s not running for re-election. Rep. Harold Ford (D) and Bob Corker (R) are vying for his seat. That means, assuming we retain control of the Senate, we’ll have a new Senate Majority Leader next year.

2) How many others in the GOP support Frist’s ‘defeatist’ position? As it stands, I don’t know of any Republicans in Congress who share the pre-clarified position of Frist. But if it were a lot, don’t you think it would make more sense to leave the GOP entirely if it was a party position rather than just the position of the SML who is on his way out the door?

Back during the UAE port deal controversy, I was so disgusted with the posturing of the entire party (not just one or two politicians, but the entire party because a majority of Republicans in Congress were against the deal) that I considered leaving it – and not for the Democratic party, either (been there, done that). In Frist’s case, however, you have one Senator who is not running for re-election expressing a controversial position (clarifying later) on the war in Afghanistan and now everyone wants to leave the GOP?

Let me know when the GOP on the whole takes the position that Taliban fighters should be a part of the Afghan government and I’ll be with you. Until then, save your anger not for the entire party, but for the guy who won’t be running for re-election and (obviously) won’t be Majority Leader for the 110th Congress. Because one day he might be running for president.

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