Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

The real Taliban

Vice President Joe Biden denounced Republicans in Congress as "terrorists." Former Democratic Congressman Martin Frost labeled them the "Tea Party Taliban." New York Times columnist Joe Nocera accused them of wearing "suicide vests" and waging "jihad" on America.  The exploitation of such labels for political gain is despicable, insulting, and wrong. The United States is ...

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Vice President Joe Biden denounced Republicans in Congress as "terrorists." Former Democratic Congressman Martin Frost labeled them the "Tea Party Taliban." New York Times columnist Joe Nocera accused them of wearing "suicide vests" and waging "jihad" on America. 

The exploitation of such labels for political gain is despicable, insulting, and wrong. The United States is in the midst of a shooting war with actual Taliban, who have killed 1,306 Americans since 2001, and with actual suicide jihadists, who killed 2,977 people in New York and Washington in 2001, 33 in Bali in 2002, 202 in Casablanca and 35 in Riyadh in 2003, 191 in Madrid in 2004, and 52 in London in 2005, to say nothing of the tens of thousands slain by insurgents and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Borrowing the fervor and moral authority of war-time rhetoric to demonize political opponents is disgraceful to those serving, wounded, and killed in actual war.

Frost's article is particularly offensive. "Ten years ago, the Taliban in Afghanistan destroyed two gigantic figures of Buddha, carved into a hillside 18 centuries before. The world was aghast at this barbarian act taken in the name of religious purity. But was powerless to stop it," he writes. "We now have a group of U.S. politicians seeking political purity, who seem to have much in common with the Taliban."

Vice President Joe Biden denounced Republicans in Congress as "terrorists." Former Democratic Congressman Martin Frost labeled them the "Tea Party Taliban." New York Times columnist Joe Nocera accused them of wearing "suicide vests" and waging "jihad" on America. 

The exploitation of such labels for political gain is despicable, insulting, and wrong. The United States is in the midst of a shooting war with actual Taliban, who have killed 1,306 Americans since 2001, and with actual suicide jihadists, who killed 2,977 people in New York and Washington in 2001, 33 in Bali in 2002, 202 in Casablanca and 35 in Riyadh in 2003, 191 in Madrid in 2004, and 52 in London in 2005, to say nothing of the tens of thousands slain by insurgents and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Borrowing the fervor and moral authority of war-time rhetoric to demonize political opponents is disgraceful to those serving, wounded, and killed in actual war.

Frost’s article is particularly offensive. "Ten years ago, the Taliban in Afghanistan destroyed two gigantic figures of Buddha, carved into a hillside 18 centuries before. The world was aghast at this barbarian act taken in the name of religious purity. But was powerless to stop it," he writes. "We now have a group of U.S. politicians seeking political purity, who seem to have much in common with the Taliban."

No, they don’t.  Republicans and Tea Partiers have nothing in common with the barbarians who flew planes into the Twin Towers or who ran Afghanistan into the ground over a half-decade of misrule and tyranny. The Taliban and al Qaeda are violent Islamist theocrats.  It is depressing to have to state the obvious, but for the record, Republicans and Tea Partiers do not advocate for theocracy or a violent take over of government. 

The Taliban’s oppressions are infamous, but it is apparently worth repeating because the Vice President has forgotten them. The Taliban banned kite flying, compelled women to wear the burqa, disallowed women from working outside the home, banned "un-Islamic" music, art, or discussion, and recognized no check on their authority. They massacred civilians and targeted the Hazara for ethnic-cleansing — notably at Mazar-I Shari in 1998, Robatak Pass in 2000, and Yakaolang in 2001. Unlike other dictatorships, they did not bother even to hold and rig elections. They took power by bribery and conquest; held power by force; and recognized no authority but God’s. There was no transparency in government and no means of holding it accountable. Afghans enjoyed no freedom of speech, press, or worship.  Comparing domestic political opponents to these thugs because of some tough legislative negotiations is either ignorant or libelous. Either way it is unconscionable.

The only apparent similarity between American conservatives and the Taliban is that they believe things. Incidentally, so does most of the human race. However, they believe different things, and those different beliefs lead to greatly different actions. Republican beliefs in liberty, constitutional democracy, and limited government lead them to participate in elections and, once in office, work hard for their agenda. The Taliban’s convictions lead them to kill people. Calling Republicans "jihadists" because of their fervor is as silly as saying Woodrow Wilson was a "Progressive jihadist" because of the zeal with which he sought to regulate capitalism.

Equating "strong conviction" with "terrorism" is an old postmodernist trope that doesn’t hold water for the simple reason that it is impossible to get away from all ideas and beliefs completely. Most Democrats believe things too, often with great fervor, but that does not make them terrorists. In fact, having convictions, articulating reasons for them, and trying to persuade others of them through discussion and reason are basic prerequisite for democratic decision making. Apparently the Democrats’ preferred alternative is that their opponents not believe in anything, which would be convenient for Democrats.

To my knowledge, President Franklin Roosevelt never accused Republican critics of the New Deal of being Nazis. Roosevelt could tell the difference between enemies in war and political opponents at home, and did not blur the difference just to concoct a zinger of a talking point. That is because Roosevelt was a statesman.

Paul D. Miller is a professor of the practice of international affairs at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He served as director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the U.S. National Security Council staff from 2007 through 2009. Twitter: @PaulDMiller2 ‏

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