by David P. Goldman
Ralph Peters' op-ed in today's New York Post shows that our putative allies in Afghanistan as well as Iraq are in bed with Iran. He argues that it's a blunder. It will be a blunder, but it's actually Obama's policy, and it was spelled out by now Defense Secretary Gates and Zbignew Brzezinski back in 2004. It's as bad as Peters says it is, and then some.
"It's wretched enough that our 'friend' Ahmed Chalabi has become Iran's point man in Iraq. Now 'our man in Kabu,' President Hamid Karzai, is quietly shifting his loyalty to Tehran," Peters writes.
Beyond Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedinejad's recent chummy visit to Karzai -- reported by the media but played down by Washington -- Iran's been training Taliban forces to kill our troops more efficiently.
Karzai hasn't complained. Nor has he objected to Tehran's expansion of its support for its clients in western Afghanistan. He wants that support for himself.
Where I disagree with Peters is in the matter of the administration's intent. In a March 16 "Spengler" column for Asia Times Online, I quoted State Department officials' on-record invitation to Iran to play a major role in Afghanistan. Getting Iran involved IS the administration's "exit strategy." Obama wants an ALLIANCE with Iran. And that's why he picked a fight with Netanyahu over the non-issue of apartment construction in a part of North Jerusalem that every draft piece plan agrees will remain Israeli. If Israel hits Iran's nuclear capacity, the deal is off.
As I wrote March 16:
Despite the enormous difference in outlook between the last administration and the present one, there is an underlying continuity in Washington's stance towards Iran, due to the facts on the ground put in place by Iran itself. I wrote on this site in October 2005, shortly after Ahmadinejad came to power:
I do not believe any formal understanding is in place, but the probable outcome is that Washington will refrain from military action to forestall any Iranian nuclear arms developments, while Tehran will refrain from disrupting Washington's constitutional Potemkin Village in Iraq. Tehran thinks strategically, as befits a country with a government newly elected by an overwhelming majority, while Washington thinks politically. President George W Bush is struggling to persuade the American public of the wisdom of his nation-building scheme in Iraq, and badly wants the Iranians to keep their hands in their pockets. Iran is prepared to do so as long as America keeps its opposition to its nuclear program within the confines of the diplomatic cul-de-sac defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency. (See A Syriajevo in the making?, Asia Times Online, October 25, 2005)
Nation-building in Iraq is the tar baby that has entrappedAmerican foreign policy. The notion that the United States should take responsibility for the political evolution of a country cooked up by British cartographers with the explicit purpose of keeping Sunni Arabs, Shi'ite Arabs and Kurds at each others' throats, ranks as one of the great political delusions of the past century. Since the American invasion in 2003, it always has been in Iran's power to make the country ungovernable. More important to Iran, though, is the potential acquisition of nuclear weapons. Should it become a nuclear power, Iran could set its cats' paws in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan to whatever task it chose with far less fear of American retribution.
The Obama administration's abortive opening to Iran always aimed at obtaining Iranian help in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, among other things by soliciting Tehran's good offices with the Shi'ite Hazara minority in Afghanistan. Iran has ties both to the Hazara as well as to their mortal enemies, the Sunni Taliban, and keeps its options open. Its prospective influence in Afghanistan is potent enough to panic the US - Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived in Kabul unannounced on March 8, the same day that Ahmadinejad was expected in the Afghan capital, prompting the Iranian president to postpone his trip by two days. Gates' unexpected trip was interpreted as a pre-emptive action against Iranian influence. Karzai embraced his Iranian counterpart as a friend and ally.
As Asia Times Online's M K Bhadrakumar wrote on March 13: "Karzai can hope to tap into Iran's influence with various Afghan groups, which traditionally focused on the Persian-speaking Tajiks and Hazara Shi'ites but today also extends to segments of the Pashtun population. Significantly, Ahmedinejad was received on Wednesday at Kabul airport by the Northern Alliance leader Mohammed Fahim, who has become the first vice president in Karzai's new government despite strong opposition from the US and Britain." (See A titanic power struggle in Kabul, Asia Times Online, March 13)
The United States responded to Ahmadinejad's Afghan visit by paying obeisance to Iran's influence. "The future of Afghanistan has a regional dimension and we hope that Iran will play a more constructive role in Afghanistan in the future," said US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley. He added in the past, the US and Iran have "cooperated constructively" and hoped that they would do so again, given that Iran has "a legitimate interest in the future of Afghanistan".
The answer to the question: "What is Obama's exit strategy from Afghanistan?" - is a Great Gamelet in which Iran and Pakistan work out a power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan and establish a miniature balance of power between Sunnis and Shi'ites. All that is missing is Johnny Depp in Mad Hatter makeup replacing Richard Holbrooke as AfPak czar, distributing 3-D glasses to the diplomatic corps.
Outrageous, but true.
Solution to the next mystery: Why is General Petraeus going around saying that Israeli intransigence is putting American lives at risk in the Middle East?
In order to make Iraq look better than it was and to make Petraeus surge look like a success, the Bush administration made a conscious decision to treat Iran carefully -- Bush was as emphatic as Obama in dissuading the Israelis from striking Iranian nuclear capability.
Petraeus made his reputation with the surge knowing perfectly well that if Iran wanted to jack up the list of US casualties, it could.
When he says that Israel is endangering American lives, the question is -- how? Who is going to kill Americans? The Egyptians are virtually allied with Israel now -- they let Israeli subs and missile boats through the Suez Canal. The only possible answer is: the Iranians, via their proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Provoke Iran, and Americans will die. JCS Chief Admiral Mullen has been saying the same thing for some time. These are officers whose careers advanced on the strength of a de facto deal with the Iranians and now they are stuck with it. And that's why they are dumping on Israel: if Israel hits Iran, the whole American "exit strategy" (based on a silly balance of power game involving Iran) falls apart.
Peters does a very good job of explaining why it will fall apart in any event:
Coming perhaps as early as this year (certainly within the next few years), the Karzai Compromise will at first look like this:
- Karzai remains the titular head of the Kabul regime.
- Iran "owns" Western Afghanistan.
- Pakistan replaces the United States as the Kabul government's security guarantor.
- NATO grabs the excuse of "national reconcilation" to head for home.
- The United States won't be far behind NATO, although we'll continue to pour in aid to "avoid destabilizing the situation.".....
- The Iranians and Pakistanis will struggle for influence. The next phase of the endless Afghan civil war will be a proxy fight between Tehran and Islamabad (alongside the internal factional warfare).
- Al Qaeda will align with Pakistan, gaining clandestine sponsorship.
- Karzai will be replaced by a tougher ruler backed by Pakistan, while the Iranian side elevates its own contender for power based in Herat.
- India will side with Iran. China will support Pakistan.
- Pakistan will find itself unable to control its Afghan proxies, after all. Another military regime will take power in Islamabad, as Pakistan finds itself bogged down in an Afghan morass and violence spreads at home.
- The Taliban will outfight and outlast everybody.
- As our troops surge slowly into Afghanistan to save the inept Karzai government, they may already be irrelevant. We're no longer in on the deal. Everybody knows it but us.
The last sentence, though, is quite wrong, in my judgment. "We" have known it all along. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Carter National Security Advisor Zbignew Brzezinski proposed to enlist Iran's help in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan in a 2004 report for the Council on Foreign Relations:
From the perspective of U.S.interests,one particular issue area appears particularly ripe for U.S.-Iranian engagement:the future of Iraq and Afghanistan.The United States has a direct and compelling interest in ensuring both countries’security and the success of their post-conflict governments.Iran has demonstrated its ability and readiness to use its influence constructively in these two countries, but also its capacity for making trouble.The United States should work with Tehran to capitalize on Iran’s influence to advance the stability and consolidation of its neighbors. This could commence via a resumption and expansion of the Geneva track discussions with Tehran on post-conflict Afghanistan and Iraq. Such a dialogue should be structured to obtain constructive Iranian involvement in the process of consolidating authority within the central governments and rebuilding the economies of both Iraq and Afghanistan.Regular contact with Iran would also provide a channel to address concerns that have arisen about its activities and relationships with competing power centers in both countries. These discussions should incorporate other regional power brokers,as well as Europe and Russia—much like the “Six Plus Two”negotiations on Afghanistan that took place in the years before the Taliban were ousted. A multilateral forum on the future of Iraq and Afghanistan would help cultivate confidence and would build political and economic relationships essential to the long-term durability of the new governments in Baghdad and Kabul (p. 45).
Obama is following Gates' and Brzezinski's recommendation to the letter, but also the point of absurdity. It is the stupidest, most reckless, and most destructive foreign policy action the United States has taken in my lifetime.