When I recently met Mohammed Khatami, Iran’s former President, one of the first things he said was no one more than Iran applauded the fall of Saddam Hussein and the routing of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He ticked through a long list of strategic priorities and concerns that he suggested were overwhelmingly similar to the U.S. position. Leaving Iran’s nuclear ambitions aside for the time being, Khatami is right.
What Mitt Romney and many who are recklessly demonizing Khatami have totally wrong is that there has been significant collaboration between Iran and the U.S. for years — including in Bosnia and Kosovo, but most recently in Afghanistan. In fact, before President Bush’s famous “axis of evil” speech, most in the administration were appreciative of Iran’s assistance inside Afghanistan, with which Iran has had a close working relationship with the Afghan military. The United States could not have successfully pacified Afghanistan without Iranian help behind the scenes.
Today, Afghanistan is coming undone as the Taliban are back big time. My colleague Peter Bergen has a very important and disturbing piece on this, “The Taliban: Regrouped and Rearmed” in today’s Washington Post.
While Bergen reports that the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, Lt. General Karl Eikenberry, remains optimistic, to me it looks like the trends are very bad. The line that “at the end of every road, the Taliban starts” is an indictment of the failure to rebuild infrastructure and offer people outside Kabul the benefits of a better, modern life.
Eikenberry is an impressive scholar-soldier whom I first met years ago when he was handling China issues in the Office of International Security Affairs in the Pentagon. He should read Bergen’s article today, because the general tone of the piece and his depictions of the enemy sound very much like an increasingly encircled elite just before things went bad in China in 1947 and then again some decades later in Saigon.
But it seems to me that Iran and the United States need to find some activities on the periphery of their direct concerns with each other to re-establish any kind of trust, of which there is absolutely none right now. One of these confidence building arenas could be Afghanistan.
We need to keep Afghanistan from capsizing, and it’s not in Iran’s strategic interests for the Taliban to return. Perhaps we need to informally seek the assistance of Iran in getting the Afghan problem under control and use that as a precursor for other things.
— Steve Clemons