Tuesday, June 19, 2007

You're Not Obliged to Swallow Anything You Despise

Via my AmFoot colleague Brian Ulrich, this Joshua Foust piece on the likelihood (or lack thereof) of official cooperation between the Iranian government and Taliban militants in Afghanistan covers all of the relevant bases. An excerpt:
One thing I’ve become pretty frustrated by is the U.S.’s insistence that Iran is directly aiding the Taliban. Those accusations, at least by officials in speeches, have been little but: just a throwaway line like “Iran is funding the Taliban” then a quick segue into something about Iraq or Pakistan or Karzai or something. But from what I can tell (and this NYT background piece offers a good overview), it amounts to weak physical evidence and a lot of guess work.

I’m not saying it’s impossible Tehran is actively helping the very people that almost sparked an invasion and outright war between the two countries last decade; I’m saying their differences run deeper, and the consequences of a Taliban win are so much stronger, that I find it difficult to accept without actual evidence that Iran is involved in the weapons trade in western Afghanistan. This is for reasons that vary from religious differences (fanatical Shiism vs. fanatical deobandism) to geopolitical ones—Iran first of all likes Karzai as a friendly leader, and second of all, does not want an emboldened Taliban taking over vast swaths of the country and posing the same threat it did last [decade]. It makes intuitive sense for Iran to fund the Shiite militias in Iraq; it does not make intuitive sense to fund the Sunni militia in Afghanistan.

Iran, however, is not above funding Sunnis when it suits their purposes—its support of Hamas has been incredibly successful as a proxy against Israel, and during the Afghan civil war Tehran backed Sunni factions that resisted Taliban rule.

Funding the Taliban just enough to keep the U.S. and NATO off balance and occupied with cooling a simmering countryside seems the most logical guess of the bunch. But even this is fraught with such risk, I would be surprised to see a normally risk-adverse leadership council tempt fate in this way. If Iran gets successfully blamed for American failure in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the temporary ego boost they feel will be quickly tempered by American bombs raining down on every nuclear facility the DoD [and] CIA can find. Furthermore, if Iran does successfully support insurgents in both wars just enough to force an American withdrawal from Iraq and a refocus on Afghanistan, they’re in trouble, as the tables will suddenly turn as Iran must try as hard as it can to keep Iraq from spilling over while not being able to fight a pissed off and determined U.S. by proxy to the east.

In other words, unless an extremely delicate balance is struck between support and neutrality, it is a big time loser strategy for Tehran. If Kabul’s legitimacy is permanently weakened or destroyed, the Taliban go back to having every advantage they had on their first sweep through in 1994.
That's a pretty lucid, and balanced, assessment. Unfortunately, when its war that's being sold, the appetite for such nuanced dishes is all-too-often in short supply. Instead, we're likely to get the hyper emotional and fear-based fare that helped to seat us at that glorious banquet table in Baghdad. In this regard, Joe Lieberman, the Republican presidential candidates and their cohorts at the Weekly Standard are already serving up the appetizers.

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