Wrong, Rachel - US Began Negotiating With Aide to Mullah Omar Before bin Laden's Death

Does anybody at MSNBC vet this stuff before it comes from Rachel Maddow?

Because much of it wouldn't pass muster at a halfway decent high school newspaper.

Case in point -- Maddow's blatantly inaccurate claim on her show Friday that US negotiations with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar began after bin Laden's death. (video after page break).

As if holding forth before graduate students, Maddow backed into her premise with a long-winded spiel on how bin Laden was Omar's guest when 9/11 occurred -- and given the dictates of Pashtunwali, an Afghan honor code dating back centuries, Omar was morally obligated to defend bin Laden from any and all threats.

Because of Pashtunwali -- Maddow cited it six times -- "your hospitality to that person is an unbreakable thing. Your hospitality, your protection of someone you have taken in, is your honor, your family's honor, your tribe's honor, Pashtunwali. No matter what the threat is or where it's coming from or why, you will protect someone who is your guest from that threat, no matter the threat. On your honor."

But this obligation was nullified by bin Laden's death, according to Maddow --

Now Osama bin Laden no longer exists. The Taliban still do. And our war of course still does too. But get this -- the New York Times reports that Mullah Omar is now talking to the United States, negotiating. At least his aides are negotiating on his behalf. Pashtunwali. This could not have happened before because of his hospitality, because of his honor code ...

This could not have happened "before," Maddow said. As in, "before" bin Laden's death. Which is not what was reported in the source she cited, a May 26 story in the New York Times.

In a story headlined "U.S. Has Held Meetings With Aide to Taliban Leader, Officials Say," the Times reported --

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- American officials have met with a senior aide to the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, at least three times in recent months in the first direct exploratory peace talks, officials in the region said.

... Begun well before the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, the meetings represent a clear shift in the attitude of the Obama administration toward peace talks with the Taliban, first signaled by a speech in February by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Western officials said ...

Not surprisingly, Maddow doubled down on her claim, secure in the knowledge that few among her MSNBC colleagues or viewers would challenge her widely perceived wisdom --

Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, the barrier to Mullah Omar and the Taliban -- Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban -- the barrier to Mullah Omar and the Taliban talking to the United States is gone. Those negotiations are reportedly happening now. And those negotiations are how the war finally ends.

"Now" that bin Laden is dead -- which he wasn't months ago when the negotiations began. Is the timeline here too complicated for Maddow to follow?

For the second time in as many minutes, Maddow then cited a source to bolster her claim and the source again did exactly the opposite. This time it was a clip of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talking about how many people would consider it "unimaginable" for the United States to negotiate with an enemy "as brutal as the Taliban" (The speech that was mentioned in the May 26 story in the NY Times). Clinton made these remarks on Feb. 18 -- back when bin Laden was still watching news of himself and other porn.

Maddow's third source, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, proved merciful, at least for Maddow. Not only did Reid avoid upending her shaky premise, he largely parroted what she said about the negotiations, though in language conspicuously couched --

Since bin Laden was killed, there's been some talk, we've learned that there have been secret negotiations, which are not secret anymore because you and I read about them in the paper, secret negotiations going on with the Taliban and other groups in Afghanistan. So, it's possible that war could wind down faster than people think.

Never one to let a segment end without uplifting rhetoric, Maddow said this in conclusion --

From what we know what's happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan and what is happening in our nation's capital, the signs are that we are now starting to finally bring to an end our nation's longest war ever. It may be that the less said about that the better, since maybe talking about this inevitably politicizes it and politicizing the ending of this war is probably the only thing that can keep it going on longer, but it is starting to finally come to an end now.

Finally, Maddow said something arguably true -- that "politicizing the ending of this war is probably the only thing that can keep it going on longer."

Then she really ought to stop politicizing it.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts