A tale of two skepticisms: fighting and talking with the Taliban during the Obama years

When I saw the Washington Post reports on the so-called Afghanistan papers, claiming that “senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan … making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable,” it took me back to a conversation I had with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the May 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago.

The Post based its coverage on interviews conducted by the office of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction with serving and former officials of the U.S. government, including me. From April 2009 to October 2013, I served as senior adviser to the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. I had been hired by that position’s first incumbent, the late Richard Holbrooke, who died from a torn aorta that erupted during a Dec. 10, 2010, meeting in Clinton’s office. That was less than two years after he was sworn in and less than two weeks after the first diplomatic contact between the United States and the Taliban since 9/11, at a safe house outside of Munich. Opening that channel had been my principal task. In May 2012, as adviser to Holbrooke’s successor, Marc Grossman, I attended the NATO summit, where, according to the Chicago Tribune, “the main agenda item was the future of Afghanistan.” In his opening address, President Barack Obama called for a “transformational decade of peace.”

With 2.6 million square feet of space spread among four interconnected structures on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, McCormick Place, where the summit convened, is the largest convention center in North America. More than 30 years earlier, as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I would sometimes jog up the lakeside path from Hyde Park to McCormick Place and back. Now I was inside for the first time.

Please read the full commentary here in War on the Rocks

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