Responding to a reader’s comment, Max Boot has just raised a fundamental question — and exposed a profound misunderstanding — about Iran’s involvement in Afghanistan. Max says that “I’m not sure whether I’m an expert on Afghanistan, but I know enough to realize that Iran doesn’t view the Taliban as a threat — certainly not as an existential threat (like Nazi Germany was to both the U.S. and U.S.S.R) that could drive Iran into America’s arms.” He then goes on to note that while the Iranians were helping the Northern Alliance in the 1990’s and certainly disliked the anti-Shi’a flavor of the Taliban, they are now supplying aid to those very same Taliban that we suppose to be their mortal enemies. Clearly, we are missing something here.
But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Max’s reader is actually correct — and that Iran does not see the Taliban’s prevailing in the Afghan conflict as a desirable outcome. That would be a common interest between Iran and the West. But would that be enough to justify cooperation? We are not just talking about Iran refraining from being unhelpful. Some have even raised the possibility of NATO supply routes going through Iran — though Iran has already ruled out the scenario.
After all, one could also say that countries like Turkey, Syria, and Iraq have a common interest in ensuring that the Tigris and Euphrates do not dry up. Or that countries like Algeria and Morocco have a shared interest in ensuring that Mediterranean fish do not become extinct. Venezuela and Colombia surely share similar concerns about hurricanes, and so do naturally the U.S. and Cuba. But such basic common interests are not enough to forge alliances or even to overcome ancient enmities. Whereas our basic desire to see the Taliban defeated may be shared by Tehran — and that is still a big if — Iran also desires to see America and its allies bogged down in Afghanistan for a long time. Iran does not wish to see America’s success there any more than it hoped for America’s success in Iraq. Iran wants to be the power-broker in both places and it has played the same game here and there — first, they’re arsonists, and then, only after we beg them and offer a fair price — only then, they’re firemen. They’ll be sure to make us pay the water, the fire trucks, and all the rest of the equipment, very dearly.
The fact is that Iran has not stepped forward and enunciated a vision for Afghanistan that converges with, or complements NATO’s and America’s vision for the country. There is no record of Iran indicating — beyond the drug issue — an area where there may be a strategic convergence. And stopping the drug trade, frankly, is not enough to build an alliance on. Beyond that, Iran’s interests are diametrically opposed to ours. Why then is so much mileage given to this silly idea?