Negotiating with terrorists?

The Sunday Times says U.S. officials are meeting with insurgents in the hope of ending the violence in Iraq. Don't tell Karl Rove.

By Tim Grieve
Published June 27, 2005 12:48PM (EDT)

We're so confused.

We know that the United States never negotiates with terrorists. Just after 9/11, we heard the president say that you're either "with us" or "with the terrorists," and that the United States won't make a distinction between terrorist groups and those who harbor them. Just the other day, we heard Karl Rove deride liberals for wanting to offer "therapy and understanding" to those who had attacked America.

We get it, or at least we thought we did until we read this report in the Sunday Times: U.S. military officials have been sitting down to tea with members of the insurgency in the hopes of "negotiating an eventual breakthrough that might reduce the violence in Iraq."

Now, don't get us wrong. Given the unrelenting violence -- suicide bombers killed at least 38 people in Iraq Sunday -- and the mounting U.S. death toll -- it's at 1,742 and rising -- we think there's probably some logic in starting to talk with, rather than just shoot at, people who oppose the U.S. presence in Iraq.

What we find so confusing -- and, we'll admit, a little amusing -- is the Bush administration's efforts to explain it all away. On NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, Tim Russert asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld whether the news of the secret meetings means that the United States is now negotiating with terrorists. "No, no," Rumsfeld said. "Look, look, you've got a situation in Iraq where you've got terrorists over here, you've got Sunni insurgents here, the Ba'athist types, and then you've got people who haven't decided what they're going to do, and then you have people supporting the government. Then you have the government. And the goal is to get people to all move towards the support of the government. And it isn't a matter of negotiating with terrorists. There's no one negotiating with Zarqawi or the people that are out chopping people's heads off."

No, but there is someone negotiating with people that are out blowing up U.S. dining halls -- and that someone would be the United States of America. According to the Sunday Times, U.S. military officials have met several times with representatives of insurgent groups that include Ansar al-Sunna, the group responsible for a number of suicide bombings and the attack on a U.S. dining hall in Mosul that killed 22 people in December. Russert didn't ask Rumsfeld about Ansar al-Sunna specifically, but the secretary of defense set our minds to rest anyway. Neither the Iraqi government nor the United States, he said, is "reaching out" to "people with blood on their hands."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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