Wall Street Journal Overplaying The Iran-Taliban Connection
The leak of thousands upon thousands of classified Afghan war documents has created a political firestorm in Washington. Why is anyone’s guess; most of the information that was leaked is only a confirmation of what most Americans already think about the war.
This is why I’m baffled by conservative news outlets like the Wall Street Journal, whose editors are trying to hype up charges that Iran is working with Taliban insurgents and Al’Qaeda operatives against the United States in Afghanistan. But, like everything else contained in the Wikileaks document dump, this charge has been floating around for years.
Take this statement by former U.S. Commander Stanley McChrystal as an example. Or this intelligence official who argued the same thing in early April of this year.
U.S. commanders and the Afghan Government have raised this assertion many times in the past two years. So why are commentators acting like the Iran-Taliban-AQ connection is some sort of smoking-gun discovery? Given Iran’s tendency to support insurgent and terrorist networks against U.S. objectives- regardless of ideological orientation- you would hope that the editors are just writing this story to drag readers in.
Let’s not make the Iran-Taliban alliance more than it really is. The Iranian Government, the Taliban, and Al’Qaeda all have the same enemy in the United States and NATO. Other than anti-Americanism, all three groups have very different agendas in Afghanistan and in South Asia more broadly. So the idea that the U.S. now has to confront some strong, new threat is totally baseless and exaggerated. Opposing the U.S. presence is the only reason why all three are coming together, nothing more.
Remember how hostile the Taliban Government was towards the Iranian theocracy in the mid to late 1990’s? Iranians were (and still are) viewed by the Taliban movement as apostates and unbelievers. This hostility rose to new heights in 1998, when Taliban soldiers captured and assassinated eight Iranian diplomats, which almost propelled Iranian military retaliation.
This crisis may have erupted in the past, but the distrust between Iran and the Taliban is still there, which is why some in Tehran are worried about Hamid Karzai’s negotiations with Taliban leaders.
At best, the Iran-Taliban-AQ connection is shallow and convenient. When U.S. troops finally withdraw from Afghanistan, I doubt that the Iranians will be working with members of Al’Qaeda anytime soon.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of Marc Lynch at FP.com**