A faulty argument for staying on in Afghanistan
Marc Thiessen of the Washington Post's op-ed page is promising doom when US troops pull out of Afghanistan. There is no reason to believe he's close to correct.
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Not hesitate? No. There will be plenty of hesitation and consideration of costs and benefits. Al Qaeda and the Taliban were never synonyms. Broadly speaking, there have been tensions between the internationalist Al Qaeda and the locally-focused Afghans going all the way back to Osama bin Laden's return to Afghanistan in 1996.Skip to next paragraph
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Thiessen also conveniently ignores 10 years of woe for the Taliban – with thousands of its members killed, its loss of control of the country – as a consequence of its relationship with bin Ladens' internationalist jihadis. Many people who professionally study the region believe the Taliban have no appetite for that kind of trouble again, particularly if negotiated alternatives can be found. A good overview of the history of Al Qaeda's relationship with the Taliban and the risks and opportunities ahead is here.
Disaster Four: Another 9/11
Yup, so predicts Thiessen.
Why? Because if US forces leave Afghanistan "instead of being seen as a failed leader hunted down by American forces, bin Laden will be viewed as a martyred prophet who did not live to see his vision fulfilled." Thiessen's view of the world puts the US in an awkward position.
Since bin Laden once predicted the US would eventually depart Afghanistan, Thiessen argues that when the US departs, it will prove bin Laden right. But the logical consequence of Thiessen's reasoning is that the US can therefore never leave Afghanistan.
Disaster Five: Iran would be more likely to get nukes.
Thiessen says Iran would be happy to see the US depart Afghanistan, and in this he's probably right. Iran hasn't much liked having all of those powerful war planes on its doorstep (it didn't like them when they were in Iraq, either). Who would?
But he goes on to write: "If the United States is seen as running from the fifth-poorest country in the world, it will send a signal of weakness that will undermine our ability to isolate Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon."
There is no reason to believe this assertion is accurate.
The US has just spent the better part of a decade fighting two wars at enormous costs to itself. Whatever else that is, it's not the sign of a shrinking violet.
Sanctions targeting the heart of Iran's financial system have been imposed under US leadership, with buy-in from Europe and the major countries of the Gulf. President Obama has been doing plenty of saber rattling, with warnings of a US attack on Iran if it's deemed to be on the verge of obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iran's nuclear program is going to be a major policy challenge for the US for years to come. But Afghanistan is largely a side-show to the diplomatic and military posturing taking place.
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