When American and Taliban negotiators began the latest round of negotiations a couple of weeks ago in Qatar, it was the latest step in a lengthy diplomatic process. There may have been a point in years past at which direct talks between U.S. officials and the Taliban would've been politically controversial, especially on the right, but that's clearly no longer the case.
What is new, however, is the idea that the United States would reimburse the Taliban for its travel expenses. Roll Call raised a few eyebrows with this report late yesterday:
The Trump administration asked Congress earlier this year for funds to reimburse Afghanistan's Taliban for expenses the insurgent group incurs attending peace talks, according to a spokesman for the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.The money would cover the Taliban's costs for expenses such as transportation, lodging, food and supplies, said Kevin Spicer, spokesman for Indiana Democrat Peter J. Visclosky, in a statement for CQ Roll Call.
"The Defense Department requested fiscal 2020 funding to support certain reconciliation activities, including logistic support for members of the Taliban and, in March 2019, they sent a notification letter to the Committee on using fiscal year 2019 funds for similar activities," Spicer said.
This reporting has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News.
That said, I think it's probably fair to say talking to the Taliban about how best to end an 18-year war is one thing, while using taxpayer funds to reimburse the Taliban for its travel expenses is something else.
Indeed, if the Roll Call report is correct, the Trump administration's request was not well received on Capitol Hill. In fact, the House Appropriations panel yesterday approved its Defense spending bill that did the opposite of what the Pentagon requested.
Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), the chair of the Appropriations Committee's Defense panel, took the lead on a provision that "not only zeroes out the request for funds to reimburse the Taliban but also includes a provision barring reimbursements for the Taliban unless certain conditions are met."
Quoting the legislative text, Roll Call's report added that the spending bill now says, "None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to pay the expenses of any member of the Taliban to participate in any meeting that does not include the participation of members of the Government of Afghanistan or that restricts the participation of women."
I try not to stress this point too frequently, but what do you suppose the reaction might've been if the Obama administration asked Congress to reimburse the Taliban for its travel expenses?