Saturday, June 16, 2007

Iran, Afghanistan and rumors of warmongers

Lionel Beehner of the Council on Foreign Relations looks at the question, Is Iran Abetting the Taliban? 06/15/07. He begins by reporting:
U.S. officials say they have found evidence that Iran has supplied weapons to Taliban rebels operating along the Afghan-Pakistani border. This has prompted questions about why majority Shiite Iran would support a Sunni-led force it has opposed for more than a decade.
A very good question. International politics is oftena cynical business so it's not completely unthinkable. But it seems highly unlikely, given Iran's previously hostility to the Taliban regime that was unseated in 2001, Iran's encouragement to the US-backed Karzai government after he became president, and the fact that the Taliban previously hosted Al Qaida, who are Sunni Salafist violent extremists.

Glenn Greenwald recently reminded us that the push for war against Iran is not over, by any means, in
More warnings about a U.S.-Iran war Salon 06/15/07 and The NYT on the administration's "debate" over whether to attack Iran Salon 06/15/07). So those of us who would prefer not to have the disaster known as the Iraq War to be extended into Iran and become a far bigger disaster need to pay attention to accusations like this. Remember back in 2002 Saddam Hussein's mountain of chemical and biological weapons, the emminent threat of a mushroom cloud from his booming nuclear weapons program, his hydrogen trailers of death, his plywood drones of destruction, and so on?

Beehner writes:
But experts disagree whether the Iranian government is directly involved. Some refute Gates' remarks and say the weapons could have been smuggled into Afghanistan via various third-party channels. Others suggest they are being supplied by hard-line components within the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which has a separate agenda from the Iranian foreign ministry, which in turn has a separate agenda from Iran’s business community. "We’re talking about rogue elements," says Col. Christopher Langton, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, "maybe even cross-border organizational criminal groupings." He adds that arms factories in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province make copies of those weapons made in Iran. (my emphasis)
And he describes Iran's support of the current Afghan government this way:

U.S., NATO, and UN officials have all noted Tehran’s support of the current government in Kabul.
Let's stop there for a second. In the recent articles and news reports on the accusation that Iran is supplying weapons to Taliban rebels, do you recall hearing that officials from the United Nations, NATO and the United States say that Iran supports the Karzai government in Afghanistan? That would be the government that the United States actively helped install. The government that NATO is currently supporting with a high-risk military intervention, including 20,000 American soldiers on the last count I heard.

Beehner continues directly:
A number of experts stress that Iran wants stability and prosperity on its eastern doorstep for commercial and trade reasons. That explains why Iran has been such a large donor — giving about $600 million since 2001, according to its foreign ministry — for various reconstruction projects. Iran also wants its population of about 900,000 Afghan refugees, who have aggravated tensions among Iranians by competing for scarce jobs, to one day return to their homeland. Over 850,000 have been repatriated since 2002 but the pace of return has slowed in recent years. Finally, Tehran has sought to curb the flow of opium across the Afghan border, which has generated a drug abuse crisis in Iran; an estimated two million Iranians are drug addicts. “It’s a sensible decision on the part of Tehran if Afghanistan is rebuilt and becomes a normal autonomous state so that all the refugees can go home and the flow of narcotics ends,” says [W. Abbas] Samii [of the Center for Naval Analyses]. (my emphasis)
Iran has had particularly strong ties to Shi'a groups in Herat province. Beehner writes, "Iran has close linguistic and cultural ties to Afghanistan, particularly with Dari-speaking Shiite groups in Herat province and central Afghanistan."

The idea of "rogue elements" in Iran supporting the Taliban that a couple of the experts quoted in the article mention is theoretically possible. But if it's "rogue elements" who are assisting the Taliban - if they actually are doing so - would be a more of a reason not to attack Iran.

Greenwald in his 06/15/07 post is discussing this column by Anatole Kaletsky in the Rupert-Murdoch-owned London Times 06/15/07,
Why we must break with the American crazies. Kaletsky reports:
While Mr Brown and the British media are still fretting about who said what to whom about WMD intelligence, the talk in American policy circles is about an article, The Case for Bombing Iran, published two weeks ago in Commentary and The Wall Street Journal and cited approvingly to anyone who cares to listen by officials close to Dick Cheney. Its author, Norman Podhoretz, is an intellectual mentor to the people who took America into Iraq. His self-explanatory message is that Iran today is more dangerous than Hitler’s Germany, since it could soon have nuclear weapons – and that Israel’s very existence is menaced now as never before. (my emphasis)
I linked to The Case for Bombing Iran in a previous post. Podhoretz' view of the world is preculiar:
What follows from this way of looking at the last five years is that the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be understood if they are regarded as self-contained wars in their own right. Instead we have to see them as fronts or theaters that have been opened up in the early stages of a protracted global struggle. The same thing is true of Iran. As the currently main center of the Islamofascist ideology against which we have been fighting since 9/11, and as (according to the State Department’s latest annual report on the subject) the main sponsor of the terrorism that is Islamofascism’s weapon of choice, Iran too is a front in World War IV. Moreover, its effort to build a nuclear arsenal makes it the potentially most dangerous one of all. (my emphasis)
Under the umbrella of the vapid construction "Islamofascism", Podhoretz wants us to believe that Iran, a Shi'a theocracy, is the "main center" of the ideology of Al Qaida, the radical Salafist Sunni group.

With a civil war going on between Sunnis and Shi'a in Iraq, with American soldiers caught in the midst of it, you would think that a literate and sane person would be embarassed to write such things. But apparently, you would be wrong.

This is a very similar pitch to the one that led up to the Iraq War: alarmist fluttering about Iran's connection to terrorism, exaggerated presentations of Iran's potential nuclear capabilities, a blurring of critical distinctions behind the vague notion of Terrorism - which isn't an ideology, it's a technique that's used in war as well as in individual attacks that are not part of a war.

The last time we invaded a country (Iraq) on the confident advice of people like Dick Cheney and Norman Podhoretz, it quickly turned into a fiasco. An experience worth remembering when we see and hear scare talk about Iran.


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