Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the Obama administration’s decision to throw in the towel on Iraq, and as Team Obama prepares to repeat its mistake in Afghanistan, Iranian authorities seek to make it two for two.
On June 1, Iran sponsored commemorations in Kabul to mark the 23rd anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. From the accompanying BBC Persian photo essay and article, my American Enterprise Institute colleague Ahmad Majidyar—hands down the shrewdest analyst of Afghanistan and Pakistan in Washington—highlighted two points. First, Mohammad Akbari, a Shi’a jihadi leader now in Afghanistan’s parliament, declared, “Religious beliefs have no borders. Those who say today that Khomeini belongs to Iran will next day relate Prophet of Muslims Muhammad to Saudi Arabia.” However, Majidyar notes, some Afghans protested the pro-Iranian festivities. “This is Kabul, not Tehran or Qom,” some declared. Other held signs which read, “Puppets: no more betrayal.” Meanwhile, Iranian officials have ramped up pressure on Afghan politicians to reject the Strategic Cooperation Agreement, reportedly offering $25 million in bribes.
Afghans, like Iraqis, do not naturally favor the Islamic Republic. Persian culture is one thing; Tehran’s politics and its official ideology quite another. However, as Iranian proxies not too subtlety point out, “you may like the Americans better, but we will always be your neighbor.” But, Afghans have also never lost a war; rather, they defect to the winning side. With the sense that, under Obama, the United States has no staying power, the Iranian government is making its push to fill the vacuum—or as much as they can fill before Pakistan pushes back. Until Obama signals that victory matters more than the American political timeline, the Iranians will have the strategic advantage.